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Words You Cannot Trademark

So client’s always ask us, what are some words you cannot trademark?  Let’s just say you want to trademark “Sunshine State Brewing Company.”  There are a couple of issues with trademarking “Sunshine State Brewing Company.”

(1) You cannot register a geographic location on the federal registry (USPTO).

(2) You cannot register a generic word or phrase.

Let’s delve into the reasoning.

For “Sunshine State Brewing Company” you cannot own the words “brewing company” because they’re generic. The word “generic” is often thrown around in trademark discussions. A generic mark describes the general category to which the underlying product belongs; for example, “brewing company” is a non-descriptive way to describe a company that brews beer. A brewery (or anyone for that matter) cannot have exclusive rights to trademark “brewing company.” The words “brewing company” or “brewery” are not protected by trademark law because they identify a particular product. No one can own the word “brewery” as it relates to beer.

Now, back to “Sunshine State Brewing Company.” “Sunshine State” designates a particular geographic area (Florida). You cannot own the words “Sunshine State” because you cannot register a trademark for a geographic location. If geographic marks could be federally registered, then any business operating near or in that same area would potentially be infringing on someone’s trademark. For example, no one can own the name/words “New York City.” And, the “Big Apple” means New York City, so no one can own the words “Big Apple” either.

If you have any questions regarding trademarks, please email me at john@mathesonlawoffice.com or call 919-335-5291.

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