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An Overview of Different Types of Trademarks

Desk with the caption An Overview of Different Types of Trademarks
Types of Trademarks

This blog post is an Overview of Different Types of Trademarks.

Do you know that trademarks play a crucial role in protecting your brand identity and distinguishing your products or services from those of competitors? Understanding the various types of trademarks, from traditional to non-traditional marks, is essential for the success and growth of your business.

This blog post provides an overview of trademarks, their importance, and how to register and maintain trademarks to ensure maximum protection for your valuable brand assets.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding trademarks and their importance is essential for businesses to build brand recognition, instill consumer trust, and provide legal protection.

  • Trademarks are categorized into word marks, logo marks and combination marks with fanciful/arbitrary trademarks offering the highest level of legal protection.

  • The trademark registration process involves conducting a search, filing an application & monitoring/maintaining rights to secure intellectual property protections.

Understanding Trademarks and Their Importance

Trademarks are essential in establishing brand recognition, instilling consumer confidence, and providing legal protection. They serve as a distinctive identifier, such as:

  • a word

  • a name

  • a phrase

  • a logo

  • a symbol

These identifiers are used to indicate the source of products or services and differentiate them from those of other entities.

Comprehending the diversity of trademarks is key, contributing to the trademark holder’s ability to confirm the distinctiveness and eligibility for registration of their mark. This part of the discussion will delve into deeper understanding of trademarks and how they contribute to building a prosperous brand.

Defining Trademarks

A trademark is a distinctive word, name, symbol, or device used to identify and distinguish goods/services from those of others.

Nike’s recognizable “Swoosh” logo is one of the most recognized trademarks in the world. McDonald’s iconic arched “M” is another commonly known logo. Apple Computer stands out with its apple symbol featuring a small bite taken out of it..

Contrarily, a service mark, while serving the same purpose as a trademark, is uniquely used to differentiate the services a business provides. These marks help protect intellectual property and ensure that businesses can maintain a unique brand identity in the marketplace. Nowadays, service marks and trademarks are often both referred to as trademarks.

The Significance of Trademarks

Building brand recognition, instilling consumer trust, and providing legal safety are all significant roles played by trademarks. A registered trademark gives the owner exclusive national rights to use the mark in connection with the goods and services listed in the registration, thus preventing others from utilizing the same or a confusingly similar mark.

Employing the TM and SM symbols on your mark can further increase recognition, as these symbols demonstrate ownership of the mark and signal its intended use in identifying a company. You can only use the circle R once you receive trademark registration from the USPTO. To read more about how to use the trademark symbols, you can click here.

By understanding the importance of trademarks and ensuring their proper registration and use, businesses can create a strong brand identity and protect their valuable assets.

Primary Categories of Trademarks

Trademarks primarily fall into three categories:

  1. Word marks: purely text-based, often representing company names or slogans

  2. Logo marks: represent a brand through graphical symbols or images

  3. Combination marks: a combination of text and graphical elements

As we proceed, we’ll explore these primary trademark categories, examining their distinctive characteristics.

Word Marks

Word marks are text-based logos, typically comprising company names or slogans. Registering a word mark grants the owner exclusive rights to employ the mark in association with the goods and services listed in the registration, thus avoiding others from utilizing the same or a confusingly similar mark.

Word marks can range from generic to fanciful, descriptive, suggestive, and arbitrary.

To register a word mark, it is necessary to conduct a trademark search, prepare and submit a trademark application, and monitor and retain trademark rights.

Logo Marks

Logo marks are graphical representations or symbols that serve to identify a brand. They can be classified as either word marks or combination marks, with word marks consisting of words or letters, while combination marks consisting of a combination of words and images.

Logo marks play a crucial role in setting apart a company’s offerings from those of its competition and fostering an emotional bond between the company and its clientele.

The procedure for registering logo marks entails conducting a trademark search, submitting and filing a trademark application, and overseeing and sustaining trademark rights.

Combination Marks

Combination marks refer to a type of design which incorporates both text and graphical elements. They consist of both a wordmark or lettermark and a pictorial mark, abstract mark, or symbol.

Combination marks are widely utilized and are a successful way to communicate a brand’s narrative and values.

By incorporating both textual and visual elements, combination marks offer a comprehensive representation of a brand’s identity, making them a popular choice for businesses seeking to establish a strong brand presence.

Strength of Trademarks: From Generic to Fanciful

The strength of trademarks can range from:

  • Generic

  • Descriptive

  • Suggestive

  • Arbitrary

  • Fanciful

Fanciful and arbitrary trademarks provide the highest level of legal protection. A trademark’s strength is determined by its distinctiveness and its ability to differentiate a product or service from those of other entities.

Moving forward, we’ll examine the spectrum of trademark strengths, from generic to fanciful, to understand their influence on the degree of legal protection they garner.

Generic Trademarks

Generic trademarks are terms that are not eligible for protection under trademark law.

These marks, also referred to as genericized trademarks or proprietary eponyms, are trademarks or brand names which have become widely used to denote a particular category of products or services, rather than indicating a particular source or origin. Examples of generic trademarks include ‘aspirin’ and ‘escalator’.

A generic mark cannot be protected and may be used by anyone.

Descriptive and Suggestive Trademarks

Descriptive and suggestive trademarks refer to those that describe or suggest characteristics of goods/services and may necessitate the establishment of secondary meaning for protection.

A descriptive trademark directly describes the product or service it represents. A descriptive mark is a mark that describes a good or service using a common meaning. For example, if I had a pizzeria and I named it "MELISSA's PIZZERIA," the USPTO would deem this a descriptive trademark. This type of mark might only receive federal trademark registration on the Supplemental Register as opposed to the Primary Register.

On the other hand a suggestive trademark implies the nature or qualities of the product or service without explicitly describing it. A suggestive trademark is a mark that alludes to a particular good or service. For example, "HOT" for a tabasco sauce could be seen as a suggestive trademark.

Overall, descriptive trademarks provide direct information, while suggestive trademarks necessitate some imagination or perception to comprehend their meaning. To be protected, these marks may need to establish secondary meaning, which is achieved when the public associates the trademark with a particular source of goods or services.

Fanciful and Arbitrary Trademarks

Fanciful or arbitrary marks are unique and distinctive, providing the maximum level of legal protection.

Fanciful marks are invented words or phrases that have no other meaning. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gives the highest level of protection to fanciful trademarks. These are types of marks that have completely made up words. For example, Exxon and Kodak are fanciful marks because the words were created. A fanciful mark receives the highest level of protection but it also could require a higher level of marketing.

Arbitrary marks are common words or phrases that have no connection to the goods or services they represent. An arbitrary trademark gets the next highest level of protection. This type of trademark is a real word that has been applied to an unusual category. For example, Apple for Apple Computers is an arbitrary mark. Apple is a real word but it is not commonly associated with computers.

These strong trademarks offer the highest level of protection and are less likely to be challenged or infringed upon, making them an ideal choice for businesses seeking to create a strong and easily enforceable brand identity.

Additional Types of Trademarks

In addition to traditional trademarks, there are also certification marks, collective membership marks, collective trademarks, registered trademarks, and service marks. These additional types of trademarks serve various purposes and offer unique protections for businesses and organizations.

Next, we will delve into these supplementary trademarks categories, identifying their unique characteristics and roles.

Trade Dress

Trade dress is a term for the overall look and feel of a product’s packaging. This includes the design, appearance and any aesthetic elements.

To register and enforce trade dress, it must not be functional. That is, its use or purpose must not be essential to the product; additionally, it must not reduce the cost of manufacturing or improve product quality.

Additionally, product designs must not be inherently distinctive and must instead obtain distinctiveness or secondary meaning. By registering trade dress, businesses can protect the unique visual elements of their products, further strengthening their brand identity and ensuring a comprehensive protection of their intellectual property.

Collective Marks

Collective marks are marks owned by a collective entity and utilized by its members to identify and differentiate their goods or services from those of non-members. Collective marks can refer to two distinct types. The first of these is the collective trade mark or services mark, and the second is the collective membership mark.

Collective trademarks are used for protecting a group of owners who share a symbol, logo, design, phrase, or word. This joint ownership facilitates the collective use of the asset without risk of violation.

Collective membership marks, on the other hand, serve to identify members of an organization, collective, or association and distinguish their services or products from those who are not part of the group.

Certification Marks

Certification marks are used to certify different characteristics of products or services. A certification mark also shows that the work was done by members of a union, organization, etc.

These marks identify the authority responsible for certification of goods, ensuring that consumers can trust the origin, quality, or other characteristics of the products or services they purchase.

Examples of certification marks include the “Washington State” mark signifying apples grown in that state, and the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” certifying products that meet certain quality standards.

The Trademark Registration Process

The trademark registration process involves the following steps:

  1. Conducting a trademark search to ensure the desired mark is not already in use.

  2. Preparing and filing a trademark application with the appropriate government agency.

  3. Monitoring and maintaining your trademark rights to protect against infringement and ensure continued protection.

This process is essential in securing legal protection for your brand assets.

Next, we’ll walk through each of these steps in detail to enhance your understanding of the process and aid in successful registration of your trademark.

Conducting a Trademark Search

A trademark clearance search is a comprehensive investigation to determine if a given trademark has already been registered or used by another party.

This process helps to identify any existing conflicts or similarities with existing trademarks, thus enabling businesses to make informed decisions regarding the availability and viability of their desired trademark.

Conducting a trademark search is essential in order to guarantee that the desired mark is not already in use or registered by someone else, avoiding potential legal issues and costly disputes in the future.

The necessary steps for conducting a trademark search include researching existing trademarks, searching online databases, and consulting with a trademark attorney.

It is highly recommend to seek legal advice from a lawyer for the trademark clearance search to best understand your intellectual property rights. The USPTO website does not always show similar marks in similar categories. You need to make sure that you trademark clearance search covers these types of marks so you understand your risk of trademark infringement and the risk of your trademark application getting denied.

Preparing and Filing a Trademark Application

In order to prepare and file a trademark application, the necessary information and documents must be provided to the trademark office, including the applicant’s name, the goods or services associated with the trademark, and a description of the mark.

This process involves submitting an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or other pertinent government agency and providing all required details concerning the mark, the goods or services it is associated with, and the applicant’s contact information.

By successfully preparing and filing a trademark application, businesses can secure legal protection for their brand assets and prevent others from using their trademark without authorization, in compliance with trademark laws.

Monitoring and Maintaining Trademark Rights

It is essential for a trademark holder to monitor and maintain trademark rights to prevent infringement and guarantee continued protection.

Business owners should routinely assess any potential infringements of the trademark and submit renewal applications to preserve the trademark’s validity.

Failure to monitor and maintain trademark rights may result in the loss of exclusive rights to the trademark and an inability to prevent others from using it. By diligently monitoring and maintaining their trademark rights, businesses can protect their valuable brand assets and ensure the continued success and growth of their company.

Common Mistakes and Misconceptions

There are several common mistakes and misconceptions surrounding trademarks that can lead to inadequate protection or potential disputes. These include relying on unregistered marks, confusing trade names with trademarks, and overlooking non-traditional marks.

Next, we’ll tackle these common pitfalls and misconceptions, aiding your understanding of trademark complexities and ensuring appropriate protection of your brand assets.

Relying on Unregistered Marks

Utilizing unregistered marks can be risky as it offers limited legal protections. Without registration, it can be challenging to enforce your rights against potential infringers and to deter others from utilizing similar marks. Your business name is often your most important intellectual property asset. Do not jeopardize it.

Unregistered marks may not be afforded the same level of protection as registered marks in legal disputes. By registering your trademark, you can ensure the maximum legal protection for your brand assets and avoid potential conflicts and disputes that may arise from relying on unregistered marks.

Confusing Trade Names with Trademarks

A trade name is intended to identify the business as a whole, whereas a trademark is utilized to identify a particular product or service. Mistaking trade names for trademarks can lead to inadequate protection for certain products/services, as registering a trade name does not provide any trademark protection.

It is essential to differentiate between trade names and trademarks in order to ensure the proper protection for your brand assets and avoid potential disputes or misunderstandings.

In some instances, a company's trade name may also be its trademark.

Overlooking Non-Traditional Marks

Not taking into account non-traditional marks can lead to a lack of protection for these unique brand assets. Non-traditional marks refer to marks that are not words, logos, or combinations of the two, such as:

  • sounds

  • colors

  • shapes

  • smells

By considering and registering non-traditional marks, you can ensure that all aspects of your brand identity are protected and that your valuable brand assets remain exclusive to your business.


In conclusion, trademarks play a crucial role in protecting brand identity and distinguishing products and services from those of competitors.

By understanding the various types of trademarks, from traditional to non-traditional marks, and the corresponding legal protection they offer, businesses can ensure the successful registration and maintenance of their trademarks.

By avoiding common mistakes and misconceptions, businesses can further strengthen their brand assets and secure a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Take the necessary steps to protect your brand identity and unlock the full potential of your trademarks today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 4 types of trademarks?

There are four distinct types of trademarks offering different levels of legal protection: arbitrary or fanciful, suggestive, descriptive, and generic.

What are 3 common trademarks?

Common trademarks are words, logos, and slogans that many people recognize, such as Google, Walmart, Vodafone, Rolex, Clorox, Kodak, Exxon, and Victoria Secret.

What are the two basic types of trademarks?

Trademarks are divided into two categories: unregistered and registered. Federally registered trademarks are protected by law and enjoy broader protection.

What is the main difference between a trade name and a trademark?

A trade name is the name of a business, and a trademark is an identifier used to identify a product or service.

What is the importance of registering a trademark?

Registering a trademark grants exclusive rights to the owner, preventing others from using the same or similar mark, and thereby protecting their brand identity.

This article does not contain legal advice. We recommend that you schedule a consultation with our office or seek the legal services of a licensed attorney to understand your legal rights relating to federal law, common law rights, money damages, and other courses of legal action.

I’d be happy to help if you want to know more about your intellectual property rights, and how you can properly use a logo. Reach out to me anytime at or (754) 800-4481.

This blog post was an Overview of Different Types of Trademarks.

Image of Trademark Attorney Melissa Ramnauth
Trademark Attorney


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Oct 12, 2023

Definitely a great resource to have bookmarked! Was thinking about trademarking my signature program and this has been helpful in learning about the process. Thanks for sharing this.


Oct 06, 2023

Thanks for sharing, lots of great information there.


Oct 01, 2023

Really informative and easy to read. Thank you for sharing


Oct 01, 2023

I really appreciate how thorough your post is and how easy you make it to understand otherwise complicated legal content. This is terrific!


Oct 01, 2023

Thank you for deepening my understanding of trademarks! This post was so informative and easy to understand.

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