What You Can and Cannot Register as a Trademark

Your business, your ideas, and your art are important to you. You have spent years dreaming up these ideas. And sharing them with the world increases the risk that someone could copy what you have created.

One powerful way to protect your work is filing for trademark registration. But you cannot register a trademark for just anything. 

Learn the rules of what is and is not possible to register as a trademark before you file any applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

What Can You Register for a Trademark? 

When you apply for a trademark, you apply to legally register intellectual property that represents your company or products. 

This includes:

  • Words 
  • Stylized words
  • Symbols
  • Combinations of words and designs
  • Designs 

Business owners can apply to register their brand logo or brand name as a trademark for example.

However, not all brand names and logos are eligible for trademark registration. The USPTO will refuse to register your trademark for any of the following reasons:

  • Generic Name of the Goods or Services
  • Merely Descriptive
  • Geographically Descriptive
  • Deceptively Misdescriptive and Deceptive
  • Geographically Deceptively Misdescriptive
  • Geographical Names for Wines and Spirits
  • Use of Name, Symbol, or Device of Organization Prohibited by Statute
  • Flag, Coat-of-Arms, or Other Insignia of the United States, State, Municipality, or Foreign Nation
  • The Name, Portrait, or Signature Identifying a Particular Living Individual or a Deceased President of the US During the Life of the Widow
  • Primarily a Surname
  • Non-Ownership of the Mark
  • Mark Does Not Function as a Trademark or Service Mark
  • Unlawful or Improper Use in Commerce
  • Likelihood of Confusion, Mistake or Deception

There are some exceptions to the list of reasons for refusal, but it is wise to stay away from these types of names and designs.

Can I Register a Trademark to Protect My Domain Name? 

It depends on how your domain name is used in your marketing materials. You can learn more about this issue in our past blog post, “Can You Register Your Domain Name as a Trademark?”.

Can I protect my art or literary work  by obtaining a trademark registration? 

Artwork that is not used as a trademark (a source identifier for goods and services) cannot receive a trademark registration. 

If you want to protect your artwork, you will have to apply for a copyright registration. Even lyrics to a jingle that is used in an advertisement for a brand should be protected with a copyright registration. The name of a single book also cannot be registered as a trademark.

Can a trademark protect my invention?  

No. If you want to protect an original invention, you will have to apply for a patent. However, you might be able to register the brand name attached to the product and the logo for the business that sells the product as trademarks if they meet the required criteria.

Still Have Questions? Ready to Move Forward? 

Talk to intellectual property lawyer Crystal Broughan at Marks Gray for more information about registering a trademark.