Trademarks must be distinctive

A trademark is not allowed to just describe the goods or services it is used for. The mark must have a distinctive character.

For example, an Apple mark for apples or apple tartlets cannot be registered as such because it merely describes what the products are. (The word refers to either apples or apple bakery.) But the Apple mark for computers is distinctive and can be registered because the word does not describe computers in any way.

The most important function of a trademark is to distinguish a certain trader's goods and services from similar goods and services of other traders. That is why a trademark cannot only describe the qualities of the product or service.

From another perspective, it would be unfair on other traders to give a single entrepreneur an exclusive right to a word and mark which should be freely available for everybody in the trade.

For example, other computer manufacturers have no need to use the word “apple" when talking about their products. In contrast, it is important for apple growers and bakers to be able to use the word “apple" freely when describing their products, whether apples or apple bakery.

You cannot register as a trademark words that merely describe the product or service in terms of its

  • kind (e.g. GALOSHES for shoes)
  • quality (e.g. GOOD or FAST for cleaning services)
  • quantity (e.g. TEN)
  • use (e.g. RAIN for rainwear)
  • price (e.g. MOST AFFORDABLE)
  • place of manufacture (e.g. SWEDEN for cars)
  • time of manufacture (e.g. 1999).

Similarly, a combination of several descriptive words may also totally lack distinctive character.

There are also words such as SALE that cannot be registered because no one can be granted an exclusive right to them. It would be unfair if one trader were given an exclusive right to the word SALE.

Distinctiveness in different languages

We assess the distinctive character of your mark in Finnish, Swedish, English and in some other common languages. Thus, an English word merely describing the qualities of the product or service is also considered to lack distinctive character.

Distinctiveness of figurative marks

The requirement for distinctive character applies to all types of marks. For instance, a mark comprising a simple geometric shape such as a triangle cannot be used to distinguish a trader's goods or services from those of others.

A combination of a word and a figurative element may also lack distinctive character if it only consists of a simple shape and an expression describing the qualities of the products.

Non-distinctive words combined with figurative elements

A word that is non-distinctive (merely descriptive) in itself can be registered in combination with a distinctive figurative element. In that case, the mark as a whole has distinctive character in spite of the descriptive word. Competitors are allowed to use the same word but not the same combination.

Distinctiveness through use

An originally non-distinctive trademark may become distinctive through use. The mark has acquired distinctive character when it has been used so long and so widely that consumers no longer consider the word or mark as a common expression but as a special symbol of the goods or services of a particular company.

The time needed for a mark to become distinctive depends totally on the case. Roughly speaking, it often takes years.

When applying for a trademark, you can show that your mark has acquired distinctive character by providing us with proof.

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Latest update 30.12.2016