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The wrong way to pick a brand name

In looking back at the firm blog, it looks like I took a full summer vacation from writing here. Truth be told, I've got an interesting new project that's been keeping me busy. Stay tuned for exciting news next month...

Here in south Arkansas, we certainly appreciate a good fish fry or crawfish boil. We've all seen various Louisiana-based products on the shelves, from hot sauce to crawfish boil to fish fry. Here are a few examples:

The hot sauces shown above are all Louisiana-style hot sauces (primarily vinegar and red peppers). You can see from the labels that these producers draw attention to the association with Louisiana and New Orleans. 

Products that use a geographic location in their name (like Louisiana) are considered descriptiveDescriptive is a term of art in the trademark world. A descriptive term can't serve as a trademark unless consumers associate the term with a particular source for the product.

Enter the company that makes Louisiana Fish Fry Products. This company filed a trademark application for their name and logo that appears on their products. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office rejected the application, finding that the words LOUISIANA FISH FRY PRODUCTS was either highly descriptive or outright generic for the types of products being sold by the company. The company appealed to the Trademark Trials & Appeal Board and lost, and then appealed to the federal appeals court responsible for handling (relatively rare) trademark application appeals. Both the TTAB and the federal court agreed with the examiner's finding that the term LOUISIANA FISH FRY PRODUCTS wasn't capable of signifying source.

The problem for the company is that it will be very difficult to stop imitators from using the company's brand name because it is so descriptive of Louisiana-style food products. A brand name you can't protect isn't much of a brand name.

So, what's the lesson to take away from the Louisiana fish fry case? You need to be careful in selecting the brand name for your products. You want to select a name that's capable of distinguishing your products or services in the marketplace. These types of names can either be arbitrary, like APPLE for computers, or suggestive, like NOBURST for winterization antifreeze. In my opinion, suggestive marks are the best of both worlds, because through imagination, thought, or perception, the consumer reaches a conclusion as to the nature of the goods or services being offered.

How do you come up with your product names?