What Is Trademarking a Word?

To know how to trademark a word, you need to know how to register a single word as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A trademark is a word, phrase, sign, symbol, or logo used to identify a product's owner. Trademarks give exclusive rights to a person or company to use a specific mark within an industry. 

How Do You Trademark a Word?

When you trademark a word, you give a person or company exclusive rights to connect one brand with that word. You can trademark a word that identifies your company or your products.

Register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to protect your trademark throughout the United States. A trademark registered with the USPTO is a registered trademark and gets marked with the registered trademark (®) symbol.

You don't have to register a word with the USPTO to get trademark status. A word is a trademark if that word identifies a brand, regardless of whether the word itself is registered. However, unregistered trademarks with the USPTO are only trademarked within the company's geographical area. Trademark rights for an unregistered mark belong to the company that first used the mark. Use the trademark symbol (TM) for a trademark that isn't registered with the USPTO.

Why Is Knowing How to Trademark a Word Important?

When you trademark a word, your competitors can't use that word to identify their products. A trademark:

  • Sets companies apart from one another

  • Protects brand integrity

  • Prevents unfair competition from customer confusion or deception

Registering a trademark with the USPTO lets you take legal action against companies who unjustly use the mark. You can sue for damages, attorney fees, and court costs if someone illegally uses your trademark. This illegal use is a trademark infringement.

When you trademark a word, you don't protect it from everyday speech use or use in informational material. A trademark also doesn't stop industries that don't compete with your business from using the word.

Reasons Why You Should Know How to Trademark a Word

Trademark a word if it identifies your brand. You want to protect your brand and set your products apart from competitors' products.

USPTO registration isn't required for trademark status. However, a trademark gives you these benefits:

  • Nationwide ownership

  • Public notice of ownership

  • Legal protection against infringement

  • Use of the registered trademark symbol

  • Listing in USPTO databases

  • Ability to apply for trademark status in other countries

How to Create a Strong Trademark for a Word

You need to have a strong word for your trademark. Made-up words and words that aren't directly related to your product are the strongest words to trademark. Consider some word types when creating your trademark:

  • Invented words: Made-up words are strong trademarks. You can't use these words in any context other than with your brand. For example, Adidas has no meaning other than the company the word names.

  • Arbitrary words: Arbitrary words are words that exist but aren't related to your product. An example of an arbitrary word trademark is bumble bee for Bumble Bee Seafood. Arbitrary words are strong trademarks.

  • Suggestive words: Suggestive words speak to a trait of your product but don't directly refer to it. For example, the word Patagonia has no direct connection to outdoor clothing, but the word suggests imagery of outdoor adventures. Suggestive words are good trademarks, but they are less strong than invented or arbitrary words.

  • Descriptive words: Descriptive words describe how you use a product. Descriptive words are difficult to trademark. An example of a descriptive word is Red Delicious for a type of red apple.

  • Generic words: Generic words that name a product can't be trademarked. So while Apple Inc. can trademark Apple when talking about its products, a company that sells apples can't trademark the name Apple.

How to Protect a Trademark for a Word

When you trademark a word, you gain rights over the word. But you can lose the rights if you don't protect your trademark. 

1. Enforce proper usage

You should enforce proper capitalization and use of the registered trademark symbol wherever your trademarked word appears. If you don't enforce proper use of your trademark, the word could become a generic name for the product. If a word becomes generic, you can lose the word's trademark.

Dumpster is an example of a word that became generic and lost its trademark. Dempster Brothers created the word dumpster for their trash disposal brand. Over time, the word became a generic term for garbage containers.

Failure to enforce proper use of and attribution for your trademarked word, including trademark symbol usage, can also cause trademark dilution. Trademark dilution occurs when a trademarked word becomes less unique, gets adopted as a household name, or results from both situations. Your trademarked word could also get used in another industry. Dilution is only considered a type of trademark infringement for famous trademarks.

2. Protect against infringement

Infringement happens when a competitor illegally uses your trademarked word. File an infringement lawsuit to stop illegal use of your trademark. A lawsuit can result in an order for the competitor to stop using the trademark, to receive monetary damages, or both.

Stopping infringement protects your brand and prevents customer confusion. You should talk with a trademark lawyer before you file an infringement lawsuit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the difference between a trademark, a copyright, and a patent? What about a service mark?

Trademarks protect the words or symbols that identify a product. Patents protect the products themselves. Copyrights protect artistic and literary works. Patents and copyrights expire after a set term, but you can renew a trademark every 10 years if the word remains in use.

A service mark is similar to a trademark, but this mark identifies a service instead of a product. If your company provides a service, you may need a service mark instead of a trademark. Some marks are both service marks and trademarks. For example, the FedEx logo is a service mark for FedEx's shipping services. When the logo appears on shipping supplies, it's a trademark.

You can identify both USPTO-registered service marks and trademarks by the ® symbol. An unregistered service mark gets identified by SM rather than TM. The registration process for trademarks and service marks is the same.

  • Can I trademark a common word? What about a catchphrase or a word on a T-shirt?

You can trademark some common words. If the word has an arbitrary relationship to the product being named, the word may qualify for a trademark.

You can trademark a catchphrase if you use the word for business and it isn't a common phrase. For example, boxing announcer Michael Buffer trademarked "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" Since the catchphrase is for a business and doesn't exist in everyday speech, it's protected by a trademark.

You can trademark a word on a T-shirt if the word identifies the producer of the T-shirt. LACOSTE is a trademarked word that appears on T-shirts and identifies the T-shirt source.

  • What words can't be trademarked?

Words that don't serve to identify the source of a product can't be trademarked. Generic words, offensive words, and certain proper names can't be trademarked. Words that are already trademarked for goods within the same industry can't be trademarked.

  • Should I trademark an entire logo, or should I trademark only the words?

Trademarking words is usually better than trademarking a logo. When you trademark a logo with words, you can only protect that exact logo. If the logo's design changes, the new version isn't protected. If the logo has both a symbol and words, you can only protect both parts as a unit. The symbol alone or words alone wouldn't be trademarked unless registered separately.

If you trademark words alone, without any styling such as color or font, the words become trademarked no matter how they appear. It's best to trademark the words, not the logo, as long as the words alone are unique enough to identify your brand. You can file a separate trademark application for the logo.

Steps to File

1. Consult a trademark attorney. Trademarking a word is a complex process, so talk to a trademark attorney early in your planning. To find a lawyer with trademark experience, search the USPTO website for an attorney that has registered other trademarks.

2. Check for eligibility. Before you apply to trademark a word, make sure the word is available for trademarking. Search the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System to see if that word is already trademarked. Since federal registration isn't required, you should also search state databases, the internet, and other companies in your industry. Look for both exact matches and marks that are similar to one another.

3. Register domain names. While not required for trademarking a word, make sure that the domain name for your brand is available. The strongest brands are those that are consistent across platforms. Register .com, .net, and .org extensions.

4. Establish ownership. Once you've decided on the word you want to trademark, establish ownership of the mark. Begin using the word in branding and business. You'll need to show the word's connection to your business to register it as a trademark with the USPTO.

5. File an Intent to Use. You should file an Intent to Use application while you're establishing ownership. This application states you intend to trademark a word, but first need time to use it. An Intent to Use reserves your right to trademark the word for six months. No one else can trademark the word with your Intent to Use on file. You can renew the Intent to Use every six months for up to 24 months.

6. File a Trademark Application. To register a trademark, you need to file a trademark application with the USPTO. You'll need to give:

  • Name and address

  • Word you want trademarked

  • Description of the product you want branded.

  • Date the word was first used in commerce

  • Example of the word in use

7. Pay the filing fee. Trademarking a word requires a trademarking filing fee. This fee ranges from $225 to $400 and is not refundable. Protect your investment by working with a trademark attorney before filing.

Sample Forms for You

Intent to Use application

Trademark application

Get Help So You Know How to Trademark a Word

You should seek the help of a trademark attorney before applying to trademark a word. Post your legal need through UpCounsel to get free custom quotes from the top 5% of trademark attorneys instantly. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies such as Google, Stripe, and Twilio.