Friday, May 22, 2009

Punctuation in a trademark: Does it make it stronger?

Dear Rich: I have a question. I would like to register a trademark. Does adding punctuation make the mark stronger? For example, is My:Business stronger than My Business? Hmm. Do you mean, does this exclamation point make my asterisk look fat? The short answer is "Probably not." Although some trademarks are known for their punctuation -- Yahoo!, E*Trade, Kool-Aid, and Guess? -- their strength is not a direct result of their punctuation. (Wait a second, has Guess abandoned the "?"?) 
Getting a Grip on Trademark Strength. Trademark strength is a measurement of consumer identification. A weak mark requires more effort to register. One factor in determining strength is the meaning of the words, something that the punctuation is unlikely to affect. The same is true for the way the mark sounds. That's why Shake 'n Bake isn't stronger than Shake and Bake. One TTAB ruling said that "the addition of punctuation marks to a descriptive term would not ordinarily change the term into a non-descriptive one." Punctuation also failed to save the day for a generic term. (The TTAB acknowledged that punctuation in an acronym "lends a visual distinction ... ") We haven't seen your mark, but the Dear Rich staff advises that unless the punctuation adds a distinctive meaning or sound, you shouldn't rely on it to bulk up your trademark.