What Makes a Strong Trademark?

You’ll often hear marketers or attorneys talking about a “strong” trademark. But what makes one mark strong versus another?

Trademarks exist on a spectrum from generic to arbitrary. With generic names being very weak and unprotectable marks, and arbitrary (or fanciful) being strong marks. Let’s dive deeper.

To evaluate strength of the mark, you need to consider what goods or services the mark is identifying the source of. So let’s say we’re only talking about macaroni and cheese for the rest of this article.

Generic – A generic mark is also the name of the product. In this case, if I wanted to sell macaroni and cheese, and slapped “Macaroni and Cheese” on the label that would be accurate, but a non-protectable mark. Other people need to have the right to compete with me by also correctly identifying their goods as macaroni and cheese.

Descriptive – If the words used to brand the macaroni and cheese are descriptive of the goods, you have a mark that potentially could gain protection over time, but would not be automatically entitled to protection. Thick and Creamy brand macaroni and cheese would be descriptive. The Thick and Creamy describes the product you’re selling.

Suggestive – If a mark is suggestive, it hints at the product, but doesn’t describe it. Something like Bellyfull would be suggestive – it suggests that you will have a full belly after eating the macaroni and cheese. The line can get blurry on the edges between descriptive and suggestive, and suggestive and arbitrary marks.

Arbitrary – If I apply a totally unrelated word to my macaroni and cheese, like Blue, I have a strong mark. The downside from a marketing standpoint is that this doesn’t tell us anything about the product, but we have a mark that is strong and that we can build a brand in for years to come.

Fanciful – Related to arbitrary marks, fanciful marks are made up words. They’re similarly strong, and in this case we’d be selling Buppermup (0 Google hits until I publish this) Macaroni and Cheese. Again, it doesn’t tell the consumer anything about the product, until our marketing efforts create an association.