As a general rule, trademark law gives legal protection to names, logos, and other marketing devices that are distinctive. These distinctive trademarks are sometimes referred to as "strong" trademarks. Strong trademarks come in two forms: They may be "born strong" because they are creative or out of the ordinary, such as Yahoo, Exxon, or Kodak (also known as "inherently distinctive" marks). Trademarks may also become strong because they become well known to the public through their use over time or because of a marketing blitz.
Trademarks that merely describe some feature or quality of the goods or that are based on someone's name or a geographic term are usually considered to be "weak," and thus unprotectible under trademark law.
However, once the trademark owner can demonstrate substantial sales, advertising, or other public awareness of a weak trademark (known as "secondary meaning"), the trademark will be considered distinctive and can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Examples of weak marks that have acquired secondary meaning include Peet's Coffee, Newman's Own Salad Dressing, Bank of America, and Vision Center eyeglass stores.
For more information about qualifying for and applying for federal trademark registration, see Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name, by Stephen Elias and Richard Stim (Nolo) or the Filing a Federal Trademark Application FAQ.
If you're ready to apply for trademark registration, Nolo can file a trademark application on your behalf. Nolo's online interactive program gathers all the information needed to create your trademark filing, with practical help at each step. When the filing is complete, Nolo will send you a summary and confirmation of the filing with the USPTO, along with three important contracts that will help you protect your trademark, and a guide to maintaining your trademark rights. For more information or to get started now, see Nolo's Online Trademark Application.