Names, Trademarks, and URLs

How strong is your brand name? Find out how you can tell.

Diana Lillicrap 8.13.2012

We’re not lawyers, but we get asked questions about intellectual property rights pretty frequently, and for good reason. A distinguished and memorable name can be one of the most valuable assets of a brand. A strong name tells a story, intrigues audiences, and is unique to your company’s offerings.

One way to judge the strength of your name is by how easily you can secure a trademark for it. A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device used to identify the source of origin for a product or service. The more unique and un-used a word is, the more likely you’ll be able to own a name and prevent others from using it in the same market.

A trademark is not created by filing for registration. It is also not created by reserving a corporate name with the Secretary of State. Trademark rights can only be acquired by actually using the trademark in association with a product or service. Of course it’s a good idea to also register your mark so you can claim stake in the name if others should infringe upon it. And it’s a very wise move to search for other trademarked and publically used product and service names before you decide to start using a new name. A good place to start that search is at TESS, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s electronic search system. Of course doing a general Google search will quickly help identify any obvious conflicts. And we always recommend using a professional legal firm to conduct a final search and apply for registration.

Types of new names

When creating and evaluating a new name, there are five categories to consider, each with different degrees of ownership potential.

Generic: A generic name is a term used by everyone to describe a class of products, rather than a specific brand. Because these names are common words, they are generally not available for trademark status. Examples of generic names include zipper, automobile, and checks.

Descriptive: This type of name describes the product or service. These names are usually difficult to trademark because of their general use of terms unless they acquire secondary meaning through use in the marketplace. Examples of descriptive names include cell phone, Midwest Siding, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Suggestive: A suggestive name implies or suggests something about the product or service. Since suggestive names are often exclusive to a particular brand, they are usually easier to claim unique ownership and obtain trademark status. Examples of suggestive names include Mr. Clean, Post-it, and Almond Joy.

Arbitrary: This type of name has no meaning for the product or service but is known in the language. Usually these names are easy to trademark, but require efforts to create new meaning in your specific marketplace. Well known examples include Apple, Amazon, and Sunlight.

Fanciful: A fanciful name is one that is made up for the purpose of naming a product or service and has no other meaning in the language. These names are the easiest to trademark, but usually cost the most to build brand awareness and meaning in the marketplace. Examples include Noxema, Crayola, and Netflix.

In addition to trademark status, a strong name is one that has an open URL, meaning you can purchase it for your brand’s online presence. In our increasingly digital world, owning your brand’s URL is essential and should definitely be taken into consideration when evaluating the strength of a new name.

Creating a strong brand name takes thought, time, and research. Do the work early and your brand value will grow exponentially.

To learn more about trademarks and intellectual property check out the resources provided by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

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