What is a suggestive mark?

A suggestive trademark has wording that suggests characteristics of the underlying goods or services without saying it outright. As stated in the USPTO trademark manual [TMEP § 1209.01], suggestive trademarks “require imagination, thought, or perception to reach a conclusion as to the nature of those goods or services.”

What is the difference between a descriptive mark and a suggestive mark?

Suggestive marks are generally registrable. They belong to the category of strong trademarks known as inherently distinctive marks. Assuming all other conditions for registration are satisfied, an inherently distinctive mark is registrable on the Principal Register without a showing of acquired distinctiveness. While a suggestive mark may contain wording that hint at the goods or services, a bit of a leap of imagination is required. On the other hand, merely descriptive marks immediately tell you something about the goods or services, such as an ingredient, quality, characteristic, feature, function, purpose or use. Descriptive marks come right out and tell you a feature about the goods or services. Suggestive marks are not as forthright.

Merely descriptive terms are generally not registrable on the Principal Register without acquired distinctiveness. A merely descriptive mark without secondary meaning might be eligible for registration on the Supplemental Register. Therefore, a descriptive mark is generally weaker than a suggestive mark.

Is the mark incongruous in relation to the goods or services?

One of the guidelines on whether a mark is suggestive is the level of incongruity. Do the words require some imagination or mental pause to grasp its meaning or significance? Is the combination of words incongruous where at least one term doesn’t quite fit with the others? Can you argue that no one would combine those two or three words together (e.g., GREEN INDIGO for clothing tops and bottoms)?

One way to assess the level of incongruity is to ask if the mark provides some connotations about the goods or services. If a multi-stage reasoning process is required to determine what product characteristics are indicated by the term, then the mark may be suggestive. A suggestive mark is more subtle than a descriptive mark.

What are examples of suggestive trademarks?

Here are examples of registered suggestive trademarks:

  • SPEEDI BAKE for frozen dough
  • NOBURST for liquid antifreeze and rust inhibitor
  • DRI-FOOT for antiperspirant for feet
  • TopDoc Connect for physician referral and related medical services
  • THE HALAL SHACK for restaurant services
  • MASTER PLUMBER for plumbing items targeted to DIY homeowners who are not plumbers (therefore, mark does not describe intended consumers)
  • FLIGHTLINK for meteorological forecasting and related weather information services
  • COLLEGE BIDS for online trading services
  • RANGE FARMS for poultry
  • LINKED SYSTEM for power tools and battery packs
  • HEALTHY HOME VACUUM for vacuum cleaners with a disclaimer of “VACUUM”
  • GLOBAL GROWERS for frozen fruits and frozen vegetables
  • PERSON for wearable computers and devices

Thin line between descriptive and suggestive trademarks

From looking at the above examples of suggestive mark registrations, you may be tempted to think that there isn’t much difference between suggestive and descriptive marks. In fact, the TTAB would generally agree with that observation, stating that doubt should be resolved in favor of the applicant. In other words, if a mark is borderline descriptive but arguably suggestive, the Trademark Office should allow the trademark application.

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Vic Lin

Vic Lin

Startup Patent Attorney | IP Lead Partner at Innovation Capital Law Group
If you are a startup or small business, we want to help. Our mission is to equip entrepreneurs with solid IP rights that facilitate funding, growth and sales. Let's get to work! Direct: 949.223.9623 | Email: vlin@icaplaw.com