*Information for this blog post is provided by Lehrman Beverage Law.

If you have tried to register a trademark you may have come across words like ‘generic,’ ‘descriptive,’ ‘arbitrary,’ or ‘fanciful’ just to name a few. Someone (maybe a lawyer?) might have told you to trademark a fanciful name and not a generic name. What do these words mean and how can they help you federally register your trademark?


  • Synonymous with the described goods or services, such as the word ‘beer’ to signify actual beer.
  • Beware: some trademarked words are generic because it’s commonplace to use the trademarked word to describe the goods/services. Kleenex is a trademarked word but over time ‘Kleenex’ has come to mean every tissue regardless if it’s the actual Kleenex brand.


  • Describes an aspect of the goods/services, such as barrel to describe whiskey.
  • Descriptive terms range from names to geographic terms.
  • The applicant must show secondary meaning (that the public associates the mark with the applicant’s goods/services).


  • Indirectly references a characteristic of the goods/services; customers must connect to the mark to the product.


  • A word that already exists but has nothing to do with the goods/services. For example, Apple computers.
  • Usually arbitrary words do not become generic.


  • Only has meaning when it is used in relation to a specific product. For example, Exxon, Pepsi, Xerox, just to name a few.
  • Usually are made-up terms invented for functioning as a trademark.

Remember! The public needs to identify the mark associated with your goods/services from the goods/services of your competitors. A strong mark is not a generic term, but is distinct with no connection to your company’s goods/services.

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To talk more about trademarks, the USPTO, or really anything call us at 919-335-5291 or email john@beerlawcenter.com or john@mathesonlawoffice.com

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