Last updated on March 26th, 2019
Anything that helps consumers identify your business, products, goods, or services can be trademarked. When we think of trademarks we traditionally think of logos, slogans, and catchphrases. But literally anything that helps consumers distinguish your business from a competitor’s business can be trademarked.
Designs, images, sounds, jingles, smells, and even colors have been trademarked on the Federal Register. Below we’ll go over what kinds of things can be trademarked. As we discuss what can be trademarked, think about how you can use this information to strengthen your brand.
Maybe it’s self explanatory, but the name of your business, the actual word or combination of words, can be trademarked. Word marks are perhaps the most common kind of mark. Every business has a name they use to identify their store, their products, their services.
Designs & Images
It’s also intuitive to recognize that designs and images can be trademarked. When you seek rights in your trademark it’s typical to register the word mark—the actual text—but then also the image or stylized version of the logo that goes with it.
Additionally, some images that aren’t a visual representation of the words in a mark can also identify a business all by themselves. Take the Nike Swoosh for example. No other business could ever use the Nike Swoosh to identify their sports and clothing products because it would be too confusing for consumers.
If you identify your business with an image in addition to the words of your mark, it’s possible that you can trademark that image.
Sounds & Jingles
Short songs or sounds can also be used to identify a product or service. Think “Mattress Discounters.” (And try not to get that one stuck in your head all day.)
Keep in mind that songs, complete with music and lyrics, are not the only kind of sound mark you can register. MGM gives us a good example with their lion roar. The use of the lion roar associated with MGM products—movies—has been around so long that it has become extremely distinctive.
Smells can be trademarked so long as they distinguish your services or products. If the smell is functional, as in a perfume or cologne, it can’t be trademarked. But if the smell’s primary purpose is to identify the maker of a product, and has no functional value, then that smell could be trademarked.
While I’ve been able to provide examples of design and sound marks, I can’t exactly transmit a smell to you. In the United States, smell has been used to register the scent of sewing thread. Each time a tailor or seamstress uses the thread, they can identify the maker of that thread solely because of its scent.
Color can be distinctive of a certain product or service. A popular case, among trademark attorneys at least, is Owens-Corning’s trademark of the color pink for its fiberglass insulation. They had spent a substantial amount of money emphasizing that their insulation product was pink, and for a time had even licensed use of the Pink Panther to market their product.
Because consumers had begun to recognize that pink insulation originated with Owens-Corning, they were able to register the color pink for their business.
Some Practical Uses
You may not have been familiar with some of the trademark possibilities mentioned, but those possibilities may give you new ideas for how you can make your marketing more effective.
For example, it might inspire you to pick a more unified color scheme for your business logo, website, and marketing materials so that you can trademark distinctive colors that identify your business to consumers. Additionally, radio and television ads that feature distinctive sounds or music could also distinguish your business from competitors. All of these marketing tactics are good ideas to help you stand out among your competitors, and trademark law supports good business practices.
Whatever your marketing strategy, remember that the more distinct you make your brand the greater protection you’ll have under the law. It’s an added bonus that it will be easier than ever for new and old clients to find you.