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The challenge of finding a trademark-worthy business name

On Behalf of | Apr 13, 2020 | Business Transactions

As many entrepreneurs see it, when times are tough for business, that is exactly the time to start a venture. Of course, we will not offer advice about that here. But one famous investor is especially famous for saying, “Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.”

Trademarks are legal creatures and when it comes to naming a new business, a good mix of fear and greed might be smart. Luckily, some of the same information that can help you choose an effective name for your new venture might also help keep you out of nasty trademark disputes later.

Letting “distinctiveness” be your guide

A primary goal when most businesses look for their name, logo, slogan or other elements of their business’s brand identity is for them to be “distinctive” of the business. This means the name, for example, must make it easy for people to identify your specific business in a sea of other similar businesses.

In the difficult task of finding a name that will do this, marketers and courts alike concentrate on one (or more) of several methods of making these marketing tools truly distinctive of your business.

Categories of distinctiveness

Arbitrary, fanciful or just plain weird choices have become common over the past century. Nobody knew what a Xerox, Skittle or Adidas was until companies built them into highly distinctive trademarks. Similarly, what apples, camels or shells have to do with computers, cigarettes or gasoline is anybody’s guess. But that weirdness itself is the key to these companies’ trademark success.

Suggestive trademarks are often also unexpected, but they hint at the nature of the product. A store open seven days a week from seven to eleven, a chicken-like seafood and a station for playing inspired 7-Eleven, Chicken of the Sea, and PlayStation. None of these names were obvious until the company’s branding strategies made them feel inevitable.

Mere descriptions of what you see, or what you get, if you deal with certain businesses include a pizza hut, an American airline, the best buy, and fellow weight watchers. But with time and expensive marketing, plus some willingness by real people to make the association, these simple descriptions achieved trademark status.

Some names like crazy glue and shredded wheat may seem like trademarks but are either not or they may have more complicated statuses. For example, the phrase “Kellogg’s Shredded Wheat” may sound oddly familiar because courts rule a simple biscuit made of shredded wheat to be too obvious for trademarking.

Taking your time and taking trademarks seriously

Occasionally, a company founder commits to a name, logo, slogan and maybe a spokesperson before they are even sure what the business will offer.

But name and branding are major decisions. So, consider making your ego a junior partner at best, and committing to gathering as many ideas as you can as well as to a long and sometimes painful winnowing process.


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