What is the "Spectrum of Distinctiveness"?

Photo of Igor Demcak

Written by Igor Demcak

Founder & Trademark Attorney

The "Spectrum of Distinctiveness" describes the strength of marks under US trademark law. Based on different trade names, the Spectrum distinguishes between five types of general trademarks.

General types of trademarks include:

  1. Generic Mark
  2. Descriptive Mark
  3. Suggestive Mark
  4. Arbitrary Mark
  5. Fanciful Mark

Generic marks display everyday or generic words such as "store" or "food". Such marks indicate a specific category of the product or service. Since such words belong to the public and nobody can claim their exclusive ownership, a company must add another distinguishing/unique word for the brand to become registrable. For example, Mark's shoes. By adding the word Mark's, the brand name becomes unique.

Descriptive marks use generic terms that belong to the public. They might be registrable upon proving acquired distinctiveness. Unlike generic marks that cannot be protected if not combined with a unique word, descriptive marks can. An example of a descriptive trademark would be "Cold and creamy" for a brand of ice cream.

Suggestive marks include words that refer to a certain quality of a product, not necessarily described in a literal sense. A good example is Netflix, where the word "net" implies that this is an internet-based service.

Arbitrary marks create new semantic associations. They use words that are unrelated to a given product/service. For example, "Lion's den" for a tattoo studio.

Fanciful marks are the easiest to get registered. They display new words that currently hold no meaning in society.

Advice icon

Haven't found what you are looking for?

Our team of experienced trademark attorneys is here to help you! Simply send us an email outlining your request and we'll be happy to assist you.