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What Does “Trademark” Mean to You?

Posted in Trademarks

Inherent in the question posed by the title of this post is the fact that the word "trademark" has more than one meaning, in fact, multiple meanings in the English language.

Yet, some trademark types would have you believe that there is only one true meaning to the word "trademark" and that this meaning is not and cannot be as a verb. According to this viewpoint, all uses outside the confines of the Lanham Act are "misuses." Nevertheless, some of us trademark types don’t share that narrow perspective, and some of us even have the audacity to think we have a solid and "fundamental understanding of American trademark law." In any event, since it has been more than a short while since writing on the topic of IP Grammar, I thought it might be time for a gut check on my position.

So, to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things the last time I consulted the dictionary, I pulled the well-worn American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition, 1992) from my shelf, and what did I find, but two noun meanings and two verb meanings for the single word "trademark" — just as I had remembered them:

  1. n. A name, symbol, or other device identifying a product, officially registered and legally restricted to the use of the owner or manufacturer;
  2. n. A distinctive characteristic by which a person or thing comes to be known: the shuffle and snicker that became the comedian’s trademark;
  3. v. To label (a product) with proprietary identification; and
  4. v. To register (something) as a trademark.

Dictionary.com says pretty much the same thing.

So, why the persistence of some in pushing for a single meaning, one rooted in the Lanham Act, declaring all other uses "misuses," even when they comport with black-letter dictionary definitions?

My thoughts on the subject are in more detail here:

Which of the above definitions of the word "trademark" have meaning to you?

Can you sleep at night knowing that it might take further inquiry to undertand which one is intended when the word "trademark" is used by someone other than a trademark lawyer?

  • All of the definitions have meaning to me. Of course, I am not a professional trademark type in the legal practitioner sense of the term. As a creator of branding elements intended to become trademarks, and owner of several, I do play a role at some level.
    It’s no secret that language is a living thing, and so is the law. Will the verb tear a hole in the universe? I think not and our collective Lex will expand and contract to absorb and codify new meanings and use.
    But that is just my opinion…and with it I sleep well at night.

  • Philip McCabe

    English is a living and flexible language and there are undoubtedly better things to discuss and whether the word “trademark” can be used as a verb. Some people register trademarks, some want to protect them without specifying how and others ask if they can patent the name. Only the more experienced clients start with the first question which is whether the trademark can safely be used. I am happy enough with the Heritage definition although the first definition is now too narrow and could usefully be amended to exclude the reference to official registration and replace “devices” with” signs” or perhaps extend that to cover colours, sounds and smells. In another forum I have been discussing whether unregistered trade marks deserve protection and followers of the present thread may wish to comment on that.

  • Very nice, but I am right.