Introduction To Trademarks and Branding.
I often tell my clients that their most important asset is their name. Why? Because more often than not, its not a product or service they are selling, but their name. A client with a great product or service, can be served well by a great name. So what's in a great name? A great name should be catchy and memorable, should create interest in the product or service, and most importantly be registerable as a trademark or service mark - that is capable of registration on the principal register maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO"). For simplicity sake, this article uses the word, trademark, to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
Generic and Descriptive Comoany and Product Names.
A trademark is a name, slogan, and/or design that tells the consumer the origin of the products (services) and distinguishes your goods (services) from those of a competitor. A common problem in selecting a trademark is the temptation to use a descriptive or generic name - a mark that directly conveys a characteristic of the goods. With the increasing popularity of the Internet and domain names, this is more so now than ever before. But, beware– generic terms can never function as a trademark, absent proof of a secondary meaning and descriptive names face similar difficulties.
Arbitrary and Coined Marks.
On the other hand, arbitrary and coined marks are inherently distinctive and do not require proof of a secondary meaning to obtain federal registration. An arbitrary mark is one that has absolutely no connection with the goods, such as AMAZON bookstore or GATEWAY computer. A coined mark is one that has been invented to function solely as a trademark, such as VERIZON directories or KODAK film. Suggestive marks, albeit inherently distinctive, often can be construed to be suggestive and descriptive, since they merely suggest a quality or ingredient of the goods. Examples of some suggestive marks include: AT A GLANCE for calendars and COPPERTONE for sun tan oil.
How To Select Your Business Name.
So how do you select a name for your goods or services? Stay away from generic, descriptive, and non-inherently distinctive marks. Also, while coined marks can be strong marks, often more time, effort, and money is necessary to promote a coined mark (e.g. brand your product or service). Likewise, suggestive marks can also be strong, but the registrant must first convince the USPTO that the mark is suggestive and not descriptive. Therefore, the best marks border between suggestive and arbitrary or coined.
Okay now that your lost, let me explain. First, focus on your product (service) and its intended (targeted) consumer. Describe your product (service) simply, look at your description, and then write down all of the words that come to mind. For example, when naming a computer, you might note qualities of fast, reliable, sleek, and efficient. Then ask your friends, employees, and co-workers to brainstorm with you to find terms that you feel may be adaptable to a trade name. The longer the list, the more words you will have to creatively play with. Second, play with the words by combining them, shortening them, changing certain letters, using alliteration and rhyme to come up with 20 to 50 potential names. Third, narrow your list to the best 10 names. You can do this by asking various questions (e.g., Is it easily pronounced? How will it sound on the radio, tv, or telephone? Will people be able to spell it after hearing it only once? Will you outgrow it? Will it become passe? Is it to trendy? Is it too generic? Is it to descriptive?). Forth, narrow the top 10 names to 5 by testing each name. This can be done by either enlisting a market research company, or if too costly, using your friends, family, and co-workers. Fifth, be prepared to go with any name on that top 5 list. Finally, have a trademark search performed to ensure that no one is already using the same or similar names selected.
In sum, try a come up with an inherently distinctive name, while keeping your targeted customer base in mind. Also, if not to costly, consider hiring a professional naming company. Then have a trademark search conducted on the proposed selected name, and consult an attorney for help performing a search and registering your proposed mark.