Brand Names

BRAND NAMES: Own Your Trademark

by Anne M. Berg

At its creation point, your brand name has the opportunity of a lifetime to start out strong — to be a distinctive moniker, unique among your competitors.

For the sake of your own balance sheet, do not market a brand name that you cannot own. Not only the URL, but also the federal trademark.

The key to trademark strength is this: the more a brand name implies the product or service it actually represents, the weaker it is from a trademark perspective.

Relative weakness implies the following significant concerns: the mark is more expensive to search, acquire, own, and protect; and the mark is more likely to have conflicting (similar and therefore potentially confusing) marks within the same class(es) of goods and services, which can make it difficult (or even impossible) to get it on the federal register of trademarks. Here are some examples:

Generic [weakest]:  Aspirin. Corn Flakes. Tire Store.

Descriptive [weak]:  Fast Signs. U.S. Bank. Best Buy.

Suggestive [strong]:  Staples. Peloton. Lyft.

Arbitrary [stronger]:  Caribou. Uber. Target.

Coined [strongest]:  Xerox. Ulta. Netflix.

Trademarks can live forever if managed properly, unlike other forms of intellectual property such as patents and copyrights. It’s curious then, why such a significant asset isn’t taken more seriously throughout the critical naming process.

It seems that marketers are often reluctant to rely on fanciful or made-up names to represent their brands. They tend to think that using descriptive language will make their job easier. In fact, this generic approach risks the profitability of the brand, if not the brand itself.