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Categories of Marks

November 20, 2018 | by | Trademark Law

There are four basic categories of marks. These include fanciful and arbitrary marks, suggestive marks, descriptive marks, and generic terms. Fanciful marks, such as EXXON® and XEROX®, are completely made-up. Arbitrary marks in no way describe the goods or services they are meant to identify. Examples of arbitrary marks include APPLE® for computers and IVORY® for soap. They are common English-language words, but are “arbitrary” as applied to the specific goods or services for which they are used. Suggestive marks, such as 7 ELEVEN® and COPPERTONE®, indirectly describe the products or services they identify. All of these categories can be valid trademarks.

Descriptive marks include marks which merely describe the products or services they identify, describe the geographical location from which the goods or services emanate, or comprise a person’s surname. Examples of descriptive marks include CHAP STICK® and BUFFERIN®. Descriptive words can generally be valid marks only after a number of years of use and extensive advertising resulting in “secondary meaning” as a trademark. Finally, a generic term is a common descriptive name of goods or services such as “computer”, “internet”, or “lip balm”. A generic term can never become a trademark.