Arbitrary Trademarks: The Essentials

Arbitrary Trademarks: The Essentials

When it comes to branding and trademarking, businesses often find themselves navigating a complex world of legal jargon and unique terminology. One such term that can have a profound impact on your brand’s identity is “arbitrary trademarks.”

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore arbitrary trademarks, where they exist on the distinctiveness to descriptiveness continuum, the advantages and disadvantages of using them, and the crucial importance of conducting a comprehensive trademark search.

Defining Arbitrary Trademarks

To kick things off, let’s begin by defining arbitrary trademarks. In simple terms, arbitrary trademarks are a known word used in an unexpected or uncommon way. However, let’s delve a bit deeper into the specifics.

ARBITRARY trademarks definition

Arbitrary marks comprise words that are in common linguistic use but, when used to identify particular goods or services, do not suggest or describe a significant ingredient, quality, or characteristic of the goods or services. For instance, the use of “APPLE” for computers, “OLD CROW” for whiskey, or “VEUVE,” meaning “WIDOW” in English, for champagne and sparkling wine, are all examples of arbitrary trademarks. These marks are conceptually strong as trademarks because they bear no direct relation to the products they represent.

The Distinctiveness to Descriptiveness Continuum: Where Do Arbitrary Trademarks Stand?

With regard to trademark significance, matter may be categorized along a continuum, ranging from marks that are highly distinctive to matter that is a generic name for the goods or services. The degree of distinctiveness – or, on the other hand, descriptiveness – of a designation can be determined only by considering it in relation to the specific goods or services.

Trademark Distinctiveness to Descriptiveness Continuum

At one extreme are marks that, when used in relation to the goods or services, are completely arbitrary or fanciful. Next on the continuum are suggestive trademarks, followed by merely descriptive matter. Finally, generic terms for the goods or services are at the opposite end of the continuum from arbitrary or fanciful marks. Fanciful, arbitrary, and suggestive marks, often referred to as “inherently distinctive” marks, are registrable on the Principal Register without proof of acquired distinctiveness.

The Power of Arbitrary Trademarks

In the world of trademarks, the phrase “registrable on the Principal Register without proof of acquired distinctiveness” signifies that some trademarks can earn their spot on the Principal Register without the need to prove secondary meaning. This unique advantage gives these trademarks an immediate edge in the market, cementing their status as unmistakable brand identifiers in the minds of consumers.

To make this concept clearer, let’s take a closer look. When a trademark examiner encounters a term in a mark and is uncertain about its meaning, they reach out to the applicant for clarification. If it turns out that the term is indeed arbitrary, the examiner can document that they’ve conducted extensive research without making any legal judgments or conclusions. This process ensures that only truly distinct trademarks make their way to the Principal Register, enhancing their legal and market standing.

The Arbitrary Use of Geographic Terms

In the realm of trademarks, a geographic location’s name is considered arbitrary if it holds no significant connection to the production or commercial activities of the relevant goods or services. For instance, using “ALASKA” as a trademark for bananas would be perceived as arbitrary since consumers are unlikely to associate the mark with the origin of the product.

arbitrary use of geographic terms

Similarly, when it comes to names of geographical features like mountains or rivers, they can also be deemed arbitrary for certain products, especially if there is no commercial activity associated with those locations. In other words, “the names of places devoid of commercial activity are [to be considered] arbitrary usage.”

For instance, labeling candy bars as “Colorado River” or automobiles as “Mount Rushmore” would be categorized as arbitrary. This applies to a range of place names such as “ANTARCTICA,” “MOUNT EVEREST,” or “GALAPAGOS,” such as when applied to everyday commercial products like beer and shoes. Moreover, names like “SUN,” “WORLD,” “GLOBE,” “MARS,” or “MILKY WAY” are also considered arbitrary as they do not provide informational value.

The Importance of a Comprehensive Trademark Search

Arbitrary trademarks wield significant influence, yet they are not impervious to potential complications. This is where a comprehensive trademark search proves its worth. It’s essential to understand that your selected trademark doesn’t necessarily have to be an exact match to give rise to issues. Even subtle resemblances in terms of sound, appearance, or meaning can lead to confusion among consumers.

When undertaking a comprehensive trademark search, it’s crucial to abide by the SAM rule, which stands for Sound, Appearance, and Meaning.

The SAM Rule for trademarks


Pay attention to how the proposed mark sounds when spoken. Similarities in pronunciation and phonetics play a pivotal role. For example, the names “I SHINE” and “ICE SHINE” might be considered too similar in sound, potentially leading to confusion.


Visual elements hold significance as well. Even minor divergences in appearance might not suffice to prevent a likelihood of confusion. For instance, the marks “TRUCOOL” and “TURCOOL” could be viewed as confusingly similar, creating potential issues.


The message conveyed by the marks carries weight. Marks with comparable meanings or conveying similar concepts might be perceived as confusingly similar. Take, for instance, “HOPNOTIC” and “HPNOTIQ,” which could be seen as similar in meaning, thus leading to potential confusion.

By applying the SAM rule during a comprehensive trademark search, businesses can proactively identify potential conflicts and ensure that their chosen trademark maintains a distinct and unequivocal presence in the market.

What is a Trademark Search?

Conducting a thorough trademark search involves delving into pending and registered trademarks at various levels, including Federal trademarks, State trademarks, and Common-Law databases.

trademark search - federal, state, common law

When it comes to trademarks, there are two primary types: Federal Trademarks and State Trademarks.

Federal Trademarks

These trademarks are officially recorded with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Acquiring a federal trademark ensures comprehensive protection across the nation, providing specific legal benefits. For businesses operating on a national or international scale, securing a federal trademark is not just advisable but essential.

State Trademarks

On the other hand, state trademarks are registered at the state level, offering protection limited to the specific state of registration. While they do serve a valuable purpose for local businesses, their scope of protection is not as extensive as that of federal trademarks. It’s crucial for businesses with primarily local operations to recognize the benefits of state trademarks while being mindful of their limitations in terms of geographical coverage and legal advantages.

Federal and State Trademarks: Why You Must Search Both

It’s imperative to search both Federal and State databases for trademarks. The clarity of a name in one jurisdiction does not automatically ensure its safety in another. Since Federal and State trademarks function as distinct entities, conflicts can potentially arise at either level. Conducting searches in both Federal and State trademark databases is crucial to ensure holistic protection for your brand. This ensures that your brand remains secure and safeguarded from potential infringement issues across different geographic jurisdictions.


In the realm of trademarks, Common-Law rights are established based solely on the use of a trademark in commerce within a particular geographic area. This structure limits the extent of your rights, as enforcement is confined to the precise region where the trademark is in use. These rights may hold more significance than those obtained through registration, particularly if another party’s Common-Law use predates the usage supporting your registration.

Consequently, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) strongly emphasizes that prospective trademark owners thoroughly explore Common-Law databases for any references to similar trademarks linked to their goods or services. By conducting comprehensive Common-Law research, you can effectively avoid unintentional infringement of existing trademarks and business names within the geographical scope of your business operations. It’s important to note that Common-Law rights are intrinsically tied to specific geographic regions.

If a specific geographic area, whether it’s a city, county, or state, holds significance for your business, it is imperative to investigate whether any pre-existing businesses or trademarks are present in that region. By conducting comprehensive local research, you can accurately identify potential conflicts specific to your operational area and steer clear of any potential legal entanglements.

common law trademark definition

Goods and Services Matter

Even when two trademarks appear to share confusing similarities, the decisive factor in determining the likelihood of confusion revolves around the connection between the goods and/or services associated with these marks. This evaluation is based on the commercial relationship between the goods and/or services within your application and those linked to existing registrations or previously submitted applications.

goods & services matter for a trademark search

It’s crucial to understand that the goods and/or services don’t necessarily have to be identical; they must only be interconnected in a way that could potentially lead consumers to mistakenly believe they all come from the same source. In essence, the concern isn’t whether the actual products or services themselves might be confused, but rather whether there’s a reasonable likelihood of confusion regarding the origin of these goods and/or services.

A comprehensive trademark search will ALWAYS take goods and/or services into consideration. This means not just exact goods/services but also products and/or services and/or industries that could be related.

Pros and Cons of Using Arbitrary Trademarks

Now, let’s examine why a business would want to use an arbitrary trademark, as well as reasons why they might opt against it.

6 Reasons to Use an Arbitrary Trademark

Businesses looking to establish a unique and memorable brand identity can benefit immensely from adopting arbitrary trademarks.

Here are six key reasons why integrating arbitrary trademarks can elevate your branding strategy:

6 reasons to use an arbitrary trademark

Distinct Market Positioning: Arbitrary trademarks serve as powerful tools for creating a distinct market positioning that sets a brand apart from competitors. This distinctive positioning not only differentiates the brand from industry peers but also cultivates a sense of authenticity and individuality, allowing businesses to carve out a niche in the market and establish a lasting impression in the minds of consumers.

Memorability and Uniqueness: The inherent distinctiveness of arbitrary trademarks makes them highly memorable and unique, leaving a lasting imprint in the minds of consumers. These trademarks often feature unconventional or unexpected words that capture attention and spark curiosity, making it easier for consumers to recall and associate the brand with specific products or services.

Brand Versatility and Recognition: Arbitrary trademarks offer unparalleled brand versatility, enabling businesses to expand into diverse product lines and industries without being confined to specific goods or services. Additionally, the inherent distinctiveness of arbitrary trademarks ensures enhanced brand recognition, making it easier for consumers to associate the trademark with the brand’s values, offerings, and overall brand identity.

Long-Term Brand Adaptation and Expansion: Arbitrary trademarks offer a robust foundation for long-term brand adaptation and expansion into new product lines or industries. As these trademarks are not restrictive in their meaning or association, they provide businesses with the flexibility to diversify their offerings and explore new market segments without the constraints of a narrowly defined brand identity.

Creative Flexibility and Innovation: Embracing arbitrary trademarks can unleash unparalleled creative freedom and innovation in branding and marketing endeavors. Since these trademarks are not inherently tied to specific product features or characteristics, businesses have the liberty to explore imaginative and unconventional approaches to product development, marketing campaigns, and overall brand storytelling, fostering an environment conducive to continuous innovation and evolution.

Legal Advantage: By harnessing the inherent strength of arbitrary trademarks, businesses can secure a significant legal advantage, provided a thorough trademark search confirms the trademark’s uniqueness and availability. Clear trademark searches ensure a seamless trademark registration process, minimizing the risk of potential conflicts and legal disputes down the line. Additionally, the distinctiveness of arbitrary trademarks offers robust legal protection, safeguarding the brand’s intellectual property rights and preventing unauthorized usage or infringement by competitors.

3 Reasons Not to Use an Arbitrary Trademark

While arbitrary trademarks offer numerous advantages, businesses must approach their usage with caution.

Here are three key considerations that warrant prudence when integrating arbitrary trademarks:

Initial Consumer Recognition: While arbitrary trademarks offer distinctiveness and uniqueness, they may present a hurdle in the initial stages of brand recognition. As these marks do not directly convey the product or service’s purpose, businesses may encounter difficulties in establishing immediate consumer associations. Building brand awareness and fostering consumer recognition may require a more concerted effort, strategic marketing campaigns, and consistent brand messaging to bridge the gap between the arbitrary mark and the product or service it represents.

Market Education: Introducing an arbitrary trademark to the market could demand additional resources and efforts for consumer education. Businesses may need to allocate substantial resources to educate consumers about the meaning and relevance of the arbitrary mark in relation to their product or service. This process could involve developing targeted marketing campaigns, engaging storytelling, and interactive communication strategies. Prioritizing comprehensive market education means that businesses could foster a deeper understanding and appreciation among consumers.

Risk of Misinterpretation: Without an obvious link between the arbitrary mark and the goods/services, there’s a possibility that consumers might misinterpret the brand message or fail to establish a strong association with the products or services. To mitigate this risk, businesses must develop clear and concise messaging that effectively communicates the brand’s values, mission, and offerings. Consistent messaging can help mitigate the risk of misinterpretation and ensure that the arbitrary mark resonates with the target audience in a meaningful and impactful manner.

Creating an Arbitrary Trademark

Creating an arbitrary trademark for goods and/or services isn’t as simple as picking a random word out of thin air. It requires careful consideration and strategic planning.

Here’s a simplified guide to help you create and protect your arbitrary trademark in 8 steps:

creating an arbitrary trademark

Understand Your Brand Identity: Delve deep into your brand’s ethos, values, and long-term goals to identify a word that aligns with your brand identity.

Brainstorm Unique Linguistic Combinations: Explore uncommon word pairings that evoke intrigue and resonate with your brand’s ethos and offerings.

Evaluate Consumer Perception: Evaluate the conceptual relevance of the chosen term, ensuring it holds no direct connection to the goods or services you intend to represent.

Analyze Market Perceptions: Conduct a comprehensive market analysis to gauge consumer perceptions and assess the potential reception of the arbitrary trademark within your target demographic.

Marketing and Branding Strategy: Craft a robust marketing and branding strategy to educate consumers and create brand awareness around your newly established arbitrary trademark.

Legal Analysis: Conduct a thorough trademark search to ensure the mark isn’t already in use within your industry or related sectors.

Trademark Registration: Consult with legal experts or trademark professionals to initiate the trademark registration process with the appropriate authorities.

Trademark Monitoring: Consider trademark monitoring services to watch out for any potential infringements or unauthorized use of your trademark and take swift legal action if necessary.

In conclusion…

arbitrary trademarks can be a powerful tool for establishing a unique brand identity and ensuring legal protection in the market. However, their successful implementation necessitates a thorough understanding of trademark law, comprehensive research, and a strategic approach to brand building. By recognizing the potential strengths and challenges associated with arbitrary trademarks, businesses can make informed decisions to safeguard their brand’s integrity and market presence.

When in doubt, consulting with legal professionals or trademark experts can provide valuable insights and guidance for navigating the complex world of trademarking.

The information provided on this site is for general informational purposes only. All information on the Site is provided in good faith; however, we make no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, validity, or completeness of any information on the Site. The Site cannot and does not contain legal advice. The legal information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney for legal advice.
DISCLAIMER: References to particular trademarks, service marks, products, services, companies, or organizations appearing on this page are for illustrative and educational purposes only and do not constitute or imply endorsement.

4 thoughts on “Arbitrary Trademarks: The Essentials”

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