What is a weak mark?

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

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Phone: (612) 632-3357


So a weak mark would be a generic mark or a descriptive mark.

A generic mark would be words that describe a good or service that can’t be protected, that you can’t stop anyone else from using. So examples of generic marks that people have tried to protect would be shredded wheat cereal, the yellow pages, discount muffler shop, and “lite” for beer. So you could protect, for example, “lite” in this descriptive – in this distinctive font, but not the word “lite.” Anybody can use the word “lite” for beer. So those are examples of generic marks.

There are also descriptive marks, which are also weak. These are marks that describe a function or ingredient or feature of the goods or services that you’re offering. Examples of descriptive marks would be like “break ‘n’ bake” for cookie dough, “express park” for airport parking, “Seattle’s Best Coffee.” It’s just good coffee that comes from Seattle; it just describes the good, and “Best Buy” for electronics. Now, Seattle’s Best Coffee and Best buy are registered marks because they were able to show that, although they described the good in the beginning, those marks acquired distinctiveness over time, and now, when I say Best Buy, you know the big box store that I’m talking about for the source of the electronics. So it does now function as a mark.