Trademark law, which falls under the Lanham Act, passed in 1946, protects the following items:
- Words: all combinations of word are eligible for trademark registration, including single works, short phrases, and slogans. Ready Solar, Activate phrases that have been registered as trademarks.
- Numbers and letters: numbers and letters are eligible for registration. Examples include 3M, MSNBC, and AT&T. Alphanumeric marks are also register able, such as 1-800 FREE-411.
- Designs or logs: a mark consisting solely of a design, such as the Golden Gate Bridge for Cisco Systems or the Nike swoosh logo, may be eligible for registration. The mark must be distinctive rather than generic. As a result, no one can claim exclusive rights to the image of the Golden Gate Bridge, but Cisco Systems can trademark its unique depiction of the bridge. Composite marks consist of a word or works conjunction with a design. An example is the trademark for Zephyrighii’s bottled water, which includes Zehpyrigill’s name below a picture of mountain scenery and water.
- Sounds: Distinctive sounds can be trademarked, although this form of trademark protection is rate. The most recognizable examples are MGM’s lion’s roar, the familiar four-tone sound that accompanies “Intel Inside” commercials, and the Yahoo! Yodel.
- Fragrances: the fragrance of a product may be register able as long as the product is not known for the fragrance or the fragrance does not enhance the use of the product as a result, the fragrance of a perfume or room deodorizer is not eligible for trademark protection, whereas stationery treated with a special fragrance in most cases would be.
- Shapes: the shape of a product, as long as it has no impact on the product’s function, can be trademarked. The unique shape of the Apple iPod has received trademark protection. The Coca-Cola Company has trademarked its famous curved bottle. The shape of the bottle has no effect on the quality of the bottle or the beverage it holds; therefore, the shape is non functional.
- Colors: a trademark may be obtained for a color as long as the color is not functional. For example, Nexium, a medicine pill that treats acid reflux disease, is purple and is marketed as “the purple pill. “The color of the pill has no bearing on its functionality; therefore it can be protected by trademark protection.
- Trade dress: The manner in which a product is “dressed up” to appeal to customers is protectable. This category includes the overall packaging, design, and configuration of a product. As a result, the overall look of a business is protected as its trade dress. In a famous case in 1992, Two Pesos, inc., v. Taco Cabana International Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court protected the overall design, colors, and configuration of a chain of Mexican restaurants from a competitor using a similar décor.
Trademark protection is very broad and provides many opportunities for businessman to differentiate themselves from one another. The key for young entrepreneurial firms is to trademark their products and services in ways that draw positive attention to them in a compelling manner.