Gaining consumer loyalty is more demanding than ever in today’s fierce market competition. To set your business apart from others, you need a distinctive trademark that genuinely captures the essence of your brand.
Achieving trademark distinctiveness could be challenging; however, by following the right strategies, you can accomplish the goal with ease and precision. This article walks you through each aspect of distinctive trademarks you should know before embarking on your trademark approval journey.
What is Trademark Distinctiveness?
Trademark distinctiveness refers to a unique mark, name, or design that effectively identifies the specific goods or services belonging to a particular company. A trademark is distinctive only when it appears different from the other brand marks, which sell the same products and services.
Risks of Having a Non-Distinctive Trademark
Trademarks are considered one of the most valuable possessions of your company; hence you must pick them carefully to eliminate potential risks. Descriptive or generic marks are weak, as they can be difficult to register and defend compared to others.
Here are the risks of not having distinctiveness in a trademark.
- Compromised Recognition: A weak mark can be challenging to be recognized by consumers, making it difficult to establish its identity in the market.
- Misuse by Others: Weak trademarks may not be eligible for legal protection, hence can be misused by competitors.
- Risk of Infringement: Not only vulnerable to misuse, but weak trademarks are also likely to infringe other protected trademarks, putting you at risk of legal disputes.
- Reduced Chances of Licensing: Partners or investors don’t see much value in the brands with non-distinctive marks, resulting in reduced chances of licensing or franchising.
Role of Trademark Distinctiveness in Gaining Consumer Recognition
Consumers are more inclined toward the brands they can trust, and a distinctive trademark helps build that authority. Distinctive trademarks are more sophisticated and memorable than others; hence they help businesses establish a strong presence, and prevent brand confusion, eventually contributing to brand recognition.
Moreover, consumers associate distinctive marks with uniqueness and quality, which develops a sense of loyalty over time. Overall it creates brand value by making products and services more trustable and desirable than others.
Trademark Distinctiveness Spectrum
1. Generic Marks
They are considered the weakest and can never be protected as they are everyday names for goods and services. For instance, a toy business couldn’t use “Toy Shop” as a distinctive trademark. If brands are allowed to use generic terms as trademarks, it will prohibit other companies from using those terms to describe their business.
2. Descriptive Marks
They often describe the characteristics of a product or service. For instance, Bank of America and American Apparel sound common due to geographical location. Nevertheless, they became highly familiar to consumers and acquired distinctiveness over time.
Although considered weak, descriptive trademarks can surpass the strongest marks due to their brand recognition. Therefore they can be protected as they typically gain distinctiveness after prolonged use.
3. Suggestive Marks
Suggestive marks indicate certain features or functions of the goods or services they represent. The consumer needs to use their imagination to identify what the product or service could be about. For instance, “Nature’s Bounty” for supplements or “Physician’s Formula” for beauty products give the audience a clue to guess the product’s nature.
4. Arbitrary Marks
They are unusual yet impactful distinctive trademarks. Surprisingly, they can be completely unrelated to the products or services they represent—for instance, Apple for computers, Shell for gas stations, and Penguin for books.
Although unexpected, these marks are more likely to create an intense association with the consumers; hence they have a substantial spectrum of protection.
5. Fanciful Marks
Despite having no pre-existing meaning in the dictionary, fanciful marks are among the strongest trademarks. Their uniqueness makes them stand out, as it is almost impossible for competitors to have the same mark. Rolex, Xerox, and Spotify are prominent distinctive trademark examples of fanciful marks.
How to Achieve Trademark Distinctiveness?
Here are the solid strategies to help you understand what makes a trademark distinctive so you can achieve trademark distinctiveness effectively.
Pick a Strong Counterintuitive Mark
The recipe for strong counterintuitive marks is simple; be as unusual and unexpected as possible. Use your imagination to play on words and puns to come up with a distinctive name or symbol that sets you apart from the competition.
Blackberry(for smartphones) and Monster(for energy drinks) are famous examples of counterintuitive marks; you can choose a similar trademark to increase your brand value and legal protection.
Choose an Inherently Distinctive Mark
If you want smooth and quick registration, go for inherently distinctive marks, as they have never been used by anyone and are made solely for trademark. Pepsi, Polaroid, and Xerox are notable examples and are inherently capable of identifying the products associated with them.
Show Acquired Distinctiveness
You can show acquired distinctiveness if your products or services have been used extensively over five years and consumers recognize the brand name. For instance, the trademark Coca-Cola is descriptive, and it’s a mix-and-match of its main ingredients. The mark acquired distinctiveness and became one of the most famous international trademarks.
The examiner may require documented proof to demonstrate the credibility of the claims of your acquired distinctiveness trademark and brand’s recognition, which you can prove through consumer surveys, sales figures, and media coverage.
Conduct a Thorough Research
Make sure you search the relevant United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database before filing trademark registration. You can also research search engines, social media platforms, and other sources besides databases. This way, you will be sure that the trademark you plan to choose is 100% unique.
Choose a Legal Entity
No matter how thoroughly you have done your homework, you can not match the precision an expert brings into the process. Hiring a trademark attorney improves your chances of success as they conduct thorough research, select a strong trademark, and file your application in a timely and effective manner.
Importance of Trademark Distinctiveness in Branding
Having a distinctive trademark is essential from a legal perspective and helps businesses stand out in a crowded market by making a lasting impression. Like Amazon, Kodak, and Subway, distinctive trademarks:
- Provide a competitive advantage.
- Make it easier to find and recall a brand.
- Eventually contribute to sales and growth.
Overall, it is a valuable marketing tool that contributes to brand recognition and customer loyalty through impactful use in marketing campaigns.
A distinctive trademark is not just a mark but a vital possession of your business that saves you from copyright infringements and sets your brand apart from the ever-increasing competition. By investing in trademark distinctiveness, you can build a strong connection with your audience and drive long-term growth and success for your business.