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How to Invent Your Trademark

LightSwitch: Intellectual Property Law Update

January 11, 2017

There is this funny little book I read many years ago: Figures of Speech or 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. The author, Arthur Quinn, describes 60 different ways to come up with a phrase or word that makes your prose and speech more interesting. He provides examples taken from sources ranging from newspaper headlines to great literature. In the more extreme ways to turn a phrase, his source of examples is nearly always Shakespeare, who is as much a word carpenter as a wordsmith. Little did I realize how important this book would be in advising my clients about selecting trademarks.

A trademark indicates a particular source of goods or services. In selecting marks, business people tend to pick marks that describe their goods and services. They see a descriptive mark as a good choice because it tells potential customers exactly what goods or services are being offered. But that is the job of advertising.

Advertising connects marks to goods and services and, moreover, makes that connection to those in the relevant market. A mark should be distinctive rather than descriptive so that, once the connection is made, it sticks and customers will remember it. Nonetheless, business people instinctively reach for descriptive marks just we all reach for clichés when speaking.

That brings me back to that little book. Did you know that you can saw off the end of a word and attach in its place another word or a different ending and not go to word jail for willful and wanton word mayhem? It’s true! -- at least when inventing trademarks.

So, you can invent a mark – Your very own mark! Look at you! – that includes parts of descriptive words carrying hints of your goods and services but, overall, the mark is distinctive and strong.

Here is an example. Suppose I sell apples from my orchard. If I just call my apples apples, customers will think they are no better than apples from any other orchard. My apples, however, are much nicer and I want to sell them at a higher price. I pick them by hand -- only when they are ripe! I nurse the apple trees and defend against bug, and I wash and polish the apples as if they were going to Sunday school.

So I listed words I associate with apples and engineered how I might combine them or put different endings on them or shorten them in order to coin a new word, just obsessing over the word-carpentry thing. I invented the mark CHOMPARÉ for my apples. I like this mark because it had this faux-French, suave sound and makes you see yourself biting into a crisp, cold, ripe apple, while, of course, wearing a sweater tied over your shoulders, sauntering carelessly across a sunny field on a beautiful fall day arm-in-arm with a French hottie.

Try the inventive approach when you need a mark. The word you invent stands a better chance of being distinct yet delivering a hint of descriptiveness to jump start your advertising.

Mike Mann
is a member (partner) of Nexsen Pruet, practicing with the Intellectual Property Law Group. He is also intent upon increasing the intellectual property of Nexsen Pruet and others by frequently speaking on intellectual property topics and developing new ways of looking at IP issues.