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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

When it comes to trademark strength, the arbitrary trademark is a powerful option to consider. It is defined by its familiarity yet considered to be inherently distinctive. Despite this paradox, it’s pretty simple in definition. It helps that arbitrary trademark examples are abundant. This guide will walk you through the strengths, weaknesses, and applications of arbitrary trademarks.

What is an Arbitrary Trademark? Benefits and Limitations

An arbitrary trademark has a broad scope of protection. It assigns a separate, recognizable meaning to an otherwise commonplace term. In other words, the nature of use must disconnect the trademark from its original meaning. In essence, an arbitrary trademark leverages a random word that has no connection to the service or product being offered for purchase. It does not describe the trademark nor does it suggest the trademark.  Most arbitrary trademarks use the selected word or words to convey a feeling to potential consumers.

Let’s take a look at a few more arbitrary trademarks:

Vans Dove Apple
This brand is one of the best arbitrary trademark examples. Vans is commonly used to refer to a pair of Vans brand shoes. However, they’re rarely—if ever—confused with the vehicles. Context likely caused your mind to drift to one of two things: chocolate or soap. Therefore, Dove is an arbitrary trademark in action. As the most obvious example, we saved Apple for last. Their iconic logo and simplistic name are an effortless execution of an arbitrary trademark.

What does each of these arbitrary trademark examples have in common?

Two primary criteria must be met for a trademark to be considered arbitrary:

  1. Pre-existing words have been used. Vans, doves, and apples are all commonplace terms. You may not discuss them very often, but it would be challenging to find someone over the age of 2 who doesn’t know what an apple is.
  2. The word does not describe the product or service it is associated with. As far as we know, Dove doesn’t sell birds, nor does Apple own an orchard. This is an important distinction to make.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to trademarking. The best choice for your business hinges on a variety of factors. For this reason, seeking expert IP law advice can be highly beneficial. Nevertheless, there is one tried-and-true method for any decision-making process: a pros and cons list.

Benefits of Arbitrary Trademarks

Arbitrary trademarks are a wise choice for several reasons. First, there is no need to build your brand name from the ground up. Unlike fanciful trademarks, arbitrary trademarks enjoy the luxury of an established word’s connotations. For example, a debt consolidation company may look towards options that invoke feelings of relief, like “safe house.” They may guide your marketing efforts and are typically much easier to remember than made-up words.

An arbitrary trademark is also less susceptible to “genericide.” Genericide is a term used to describe the predicament companies find themselves in when their brand name becomes synonymous with the product or service they offer. Kleenex is a good version of this. Someone may say “pass me a Kleenex” about any box of tissues, regardless of brand. Eventually, the word becomes so generic that the company can no longer keep others from using it.

Limitations of Arbitrary Trademarks

An arbitrary trademark can complicate your brand’s image. Many companies trademark a business name using a person’s name to facilitate trust. Brands that include a person’s name help connect the company to the face they have chosen to represent it. For example, Common words can seem less personal in comparison, making it more difficult to build a rapport with your consumer base. Arbitrary trademarks also tend to be more difficult than suggestive trademarks for prospective customers to remember.  Choosing a term that is too common could also pose a problem for your business because someone else may have already selected it in another trademark application.

The Arbitrary Trademark Timeline

Trademark application and maintenance can be challenging for a company to monitor on its own. The deadlines and technicalities that follow must be strictly adhered to protect business interests:

  1. Determine. First, you’ll need to find out the strength of your trademark and whether your choice is viable for protection.
  2. Choose format. Which type of mark will your company utilize? Trademark symbols, characters, and other design elements must be solidified.
  3. Identify. What kind of goods and services will fall under your mark? These criteria must be descriptive and precise.
  4. Establish. At this stage of preparation, your business must describe the basis of your filing and registration. An IP attorney will assist you in meeting the necessary legal requirements.
  5. Prepare and submit. Once the above four steps are completed, you are ready to begin preparing your application. This step includes the payment of all related fees. It is mission critical that you continuously check back on the status of your application. This is the best practice for ensuring you don’t miss any deadlines.
  6. Wait. Your application will be assigned to a United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) attorney. They will ensure your application meets all legal and monetary requirements, as well as check for conflicting marks. This process can take upwards of several months, and the USPTO attorney may send you an office action, like a letter. You (or your attorney) will need to respond within six months, or the application will be deemed abandoned.
  7. Receive. If your application is approved, the USPTO will publish it in the “Official Gazette.” You will receive a notice of publication that states the official date it is to be publicized. If the USPTO attorney raises objections to your application, you’ll need to address the objections before approval and publication.
  8. Maintain. To keep your mark “live,” you must file specific maintenance documents. These documents prevent cancellation or expiration. If your maintenance efforts fail, the process must begin all over again. Considering that most processes fall between 12‒18 months, it is best to avoid cancellation at all costs.

For a more in-depth explanation, check out our US Trademark Process Step-by-Step Walkthrough. Given the length and intricacy of the process, it’s no surprise that the USPTO strongly encourages businesses to partner with an expert IP law firm, like Bold Patents. Experienced intellectual property attorneys can guide your company through its trademark preparation, execution, and maintenance.

Bold Patents is dedicated to protecting intellectual property and minimizing the chances of application denial. We understand that no two businesses are the same, so we offer free Discovery Calls to help you make an informed decision. Contact us today to jumpstart your arbitrary trademark timeline.

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at