What are strong marks?

Minneapolis trademark attorney Jennifer Debrow defines what a strong mark is in the context of trademarks.

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So there are three kinds of strong marks: suggestive marks, arbitrary marks, and fanciful marks.

Suggestive marks are marks that have a connection to the goods or services that they’re used with, but they basically require a two-step reasoning process to get from the mark to understand what the good might be. So examples of suggestive marks would be London Fog for raincoats. You kind of think, “There’s some connection between the mark and the good. It’s London, it’s foggy, it’s rainy; it’s a raincoat,” but you have to make a couple steps to get there. Also, Coppertone for suntan lotion, Chicken of the Sea for tuna fish, and Jaguar for cars. So Jaguar’s a sleek, fast animal, so the cars are sleek and fast and beautiful, but you had to kind of jump there. It’s not like it’s actually related to animals. So those are suggestive marks, and those can be quite strong, but still kind of connect the consumer with the good or service to kind of help make that connection in their mind to suggest what it might be that you’re selling.

The next type of strong mark is an arbitrary mark. Arbitrary marks are marks that don’t have any connection to the good or service, but they are real words; they’re not coined words. So examples of arbitrary marks would be Caribou for coffee – there’s no connection between caribou, the animal, and coffee – Apple for use with computer and electronic products, Shell with oil, and Amazon with online retail. So there’s no connection, really, between the Amazon river and online retail, but they’re all real words, and these can be great marks because unlike a coined word, where you make something up, these are real words that people know, and it’s easy for them to recognize the word, remember it, but they’re very strong because there’s no connection between the good and service or the mark itself.

Finally, the strongest types of marks are fanciful marks. These are also called “coined,” and these are words that are made up. So examples of fanciful marks would be Google, Haagen-Dazs, Exxon, Oreo. These words have the strongest scope of protection because they were made up, so you can’t use these words with almost any other good because it would suggest that the source of the good is probably related to the sources of these goods, and so these are the absolute strongest types of marks. They are a little more challenging to the consumer, right, because you don’t know, when you see the word or hear the word, maybe, how to pronounce it or what it might be, and it doesn’t create any kind of connection in your brain, but once they become known to the consumer, they’re extremely valuable trademarks.