What are the 5 different types of trademarks?


As customers, we know our favorite products by their names. We want to know the company, business, or enterprise behind the goods and services that in the future we can find them easily if we like them. This is why trademarks exist.

Trademarks are symbols, words, or phrases that are used to distinguish the source of a good or service in the market. We want to know who made the coffee or the company that bottled the water. In simple words, the function of the trademark is to let us know where the product comes from, but not just any term can be registered because some could confuse consumers.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”) is in charge of reviewing and registering symbols, words, and phrases as legal trademarks. When analyzing an application, they look for the names that have been chosen not to confuse the consumer, and there are multiple reasons why trademark names can be paused or rejected. A common reason for refusing a trademark is that it falls into the category of “merely descriptive.”

Being aware of descriptiveness is important to avoid the delay or rejection of brand names. To help you understand the trademark spectrum in a simple way, here are the five categories explained by one of our attorneys, Tiana Mann.


The first step of this spectrum is generic words, such as bicycle, tricycle, or motorcycles; these do not work as trademarks because they are so commonly used in the way people talk and in English. You cannot register a trademark consisting of a term that only has a definition of what your product is about.

For example, if your business sells motorcycles, you simply cannot call the company “Motorcycles” and expect to be awarded exclusive rights to that generic word.


The next category is descriptive. Suppose there is a business called “Blue Cars Dealership” that only sells blue cars. This name falls on the spectrum of merely descriptive since it only gives a mere description of what you sell. Therefore, it cannot be registered as a trademark because it does not explain the source of the good or service.

In the trademark process, there are opportunities to debate and present your case. However, when a business or product that you want to register as a trademark is a generic word or merely descriptive of what you do or sell, it will be refused because it is not sufficiently distinct enough to let consumers know where it comes from.

It is important to talk to a professional attorney to advise you as to whether or not your trademark is generic or merely descriptive. It is very common that  when business owners want to register a name, they are looking to describe what they do. For that reason, this is a common trap that you could face a refusal because your trademark is too generic or descriptive..


The next level of descriptiveness is suggestive trademarks. We call these trademarks suggestive because they “suggest” what the company sells but are not quite descriptive or generic.

An example might be Coppertone, a brand of suntan lotions and sunscreens that someone wouldn’t necessarily think of as being related to the industry. But when they think of going to the beach or sunbathing, you can end up with a “copper tone.” Therefore, the trademark is suggestive.

Netflix is another example where a compound name helps you connect the dots as to t what the brand does. This streaming service used two common names to suggest to customers what they do, “flicks” like movies and “net” to identify that they are online.


The next class of descriptiveness is an arbitrary trademark, where the brand name has nothing to do with their products or what they do, yet they remain in the state of mind of consumers because of what they are.

Concrete examples can be Amazon, the name of a place in the world that has nothing to do with what it does. Another example isApple, an organic fruit that has nothing to do with technology. Shell is yet another example as a hydrocarbon company.

It is not uncommon for very large businesses to be arbitrary trademarks. It’s important to note that many brands with arbitrary trademarks have to spend a lot of time and money building up brand awareness because the trademark is so non-descriptive as to what the business is about. For this reason, many startups and small businesses favor suggestive trademarks over arbitrary trademarks, as suggestive trademarks tend to be easier for consumers to remember.


Finally, we find the fanciful trademark category, this is the safest of all since they are invented words that have nothing to do with the business or its products themselves. However, it is advisable to have the necessary advice to ensure that it is not an already registered trademark.

One  example of a fanciful trademark is Kodak, which means nothing beyond being a trademark for the camera brand.The Xerox brand also falls into this category, as it’s not a real word.

It’s perhaps the easiest way to trademark a name because it’s from your own imagination and if you can make it stick in consumers’ minds with your products, it becomes a giant accomplishment.