Merely Descriptive Marks

Under the Trademark law, merely descriptive marks are not entitled to registration on the Principal Register. Merely descriptive marks are marks that describe an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services. Unlike suggestive marks that take a certain amount of thought to associate the mark with a good or service, merely descriptive marks convey an immediate idea of an ingredient, quality, characteristic, feature, function, purpose or use of the goods or services in question. Both types of marks (Descriptive and Suggestive) are discussed at length in the post on the Spectrum of Distinctiveness.

As discussed in the post on Secondary Meaning, a merely descriptive mark may not be afforded the protections afforded under the Lanham Act without having acquired distinctiveness. Simply because an owner may be the first and only user of a mark that may be descriptive does not mean the mark is entitled to registration by the U.S. Trademark Office or even protection by the courts.

When determining whether a mark is merely descriptive or not, the decision must be made in direct relation to the goods and services with which the mark is used. An Examining Attorney at the Trademark Office must look at the possible significance that the mark would have to the general consumers of the goods or services in the marketplace. When searching for the context in which a mark may be used, sources include websites, publications, labels, packages, advertising material, explanatory text on specimens for the goods or services and consumer surveys.  Marks that are merely descriptive, are often terms that could be used to describe an entire category of goods or services; therefore, they are not inherently associated with one specific brand of goods or services. For example:

In 2016, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed an examining attorney’s decision in finding the mark “BEST PROTEIN,” merely descriptive of the owner’s dietary and nutritional supplements. In addition to other elements, the examining attorney pointed out that protein is a common and heavily promoted element in dietary and nutritional supplements, he furthered his argument documenting several products that included the term protein not only in the marks themselves but listed on the ingredients label as well.

Furthermore, a term does not have to describe all of the purposes, functions, characteristics or features of a good or service to be considered merely descriptive. It can be classified as such if the term describes one important function, attribute or property. In a similar fashion, the term does not need to describe all of the goods or services identified on the application, so long as it describes one of them. An example of this can be seen in this decision:

In 2018, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board affirmed a trademark examining attorney’s decision that the mark “BUYER ENGINE” was merely descriptive in reference to the owner’s real estate marketing services. Along with numerous other reasons, the Board stated that the mark refers “to a significant feature of the services themselves…”

A mark may also be considered merely descriptive if the listed goods or services fall within a subset of the of their respective class identified by the term.

Assessing whether a mark is merely descriptive depends upon the facts in each case.


Our Office can help you determine whether your mark is merely descriptive or suggestive for the goods and services with which it is connected.


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