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Well Known Famous Marks Trademark Law

Distinguishing Between "Well-Known" and "Famous" Marks

Joshua Julien Brouard

Joshua Julien Brouard

19 October 20233 min read

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Well known vs. famous marks

The realm of trademark law recognizes two significant tiers of marks: "well-known" and "famous." While both categories benefit from legal protection against trademark infringement, "famous" marks receive the highest degree of safeguarding. This is due to their national or widespread recognition.

Defining a "well-known" trademark

A "well-known" trademark pertains to a segment of the public, and its recognition extends beyond its mere utility. If a brand enjoys substantial familiarity within a particular locale, it qualifies as a well-known mark. This is regardless of the geographical size of the area where it's deeply acknowledged.

Determining what makes a mark well-known

In the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) employs a set of likelihood of confusion factors to evaluate whether a mark qualifies as well-known. These factors encompass considerations such as:

  • The similarity of marks
  • The relatedness of goods and services
  • The strength of the plaintiff's mark
  • The likelihood of confusion among consumers 

You'll also find that the following are also examined:

  • The intention of the defendant in choosing the mark
  • Evidence of actual confusion
  • The potential for expansion into other product lines

Advantages of well-known trademarks

The Paris Convention mandates that protection be granted to well-known marks. They need not be federally registered.

A well-known mark can thwart trademark applications that might conflict with it.

For example, some may be declined if misleading or falsely implying an affiliation with individuals, organizations, beliefs, or national symbols. 

Refusals may also be issued if a mark is unduly similar to a well-known mark. This ensures consumers aren't misled or confused by similar marks.

To protect against infringement, a well-known mark must clearly and uniquely indicate its origin or source. Again, this ensures that consumers don't mistakenly believe that the goods or services associated with the applicant's mark come from the same source as the well-known mark. 

In essence, the well-known mark must maintain a strong and distinct identity to prevent confusion among consumers about the product's or service's source.

Defining a "famous mark"

A mark is deemed "famous" when it enjoys widespread recognition among the general American consumer base. In addition, it's closely associated with the goods or services offered by its owner.

This is distinct from a well-known mark, as a famous mark is nationally recognized and intrinsically linked with what it represents.

Famous marks enjoy a broader protection from their extensive exposure and public recognition. Examples of famous marks include iconic brands like:

  • Apple
  • Coca-Cola
  • McDonald's
  • Nike

Methods to protect famous marks

Owners of well-known and famous marks can defend their rights through the US Federal Court system. 

Courts consider four key factors to establish a mark as famous: 

  1. The extent and reach of advertising and publicity
  2. Sales volume and geographic extent
  3. Actual recognition
  4. Federal registration status

Famous marks benefit from greater protection, as their owners can bring dilution actions against infringers.

Dilution

Dilution actions can only be initiated by famous marks in US Federal Courts. 

Dilution occurs when a famous mark's ability to uniquely distinguish its products is diminished by tarnishing or blurring.

Tarnishing involves associating the mark with negative or distasteful elements, harming the mark's reputation. 

Blurring, on the other hand, arises when an unauthorized mark on unrelated products attempts to appear related to the famous mark, making it challenging for consumers to differentiate the two.

Establishing fame for a dilution claim can be a challenging endeavor.

Well-known vs. famous marks

Certain marks may achieve well-known status without attaining famous recognition. These include marks known in limited geographic areas, among niche consumer markets, or within specific industries.

Know the difference 

Understanding the distinctions between well-known and famous marks is crucial for trademark protection and enforcement in the dynamic world of intellectual property law. Looking to develop a well-known trademark? 

Start with trademark registration with a qualified intellectual property attorney

Best yet: With us, you can complete your trademark filing online — no fuss and no hassle.

Interested in famous trademarks? Well, learn why celebrities often have trouble trademarking their image!


FAQs

What is considered a famous mark?

A famous mark, also known as a well-known mark, is a trademark that has achieved widespread recognition and notoriety in the market, often synonymous with exceptional quality and distinctiveness. These marks enjoy solid legal protection to prevent unauthorized use and dilution of their unique characteristics. Famous marks include brands like Coca-Cola, Apple, and Nike.

What is the most valuable trademark?

The most valuable trademark can change over time, influenced by market conditions and a brand's performance. As of right now, Amazon is considered the most valuable brand in the world, overtaking Apple. 

What is the oldest known trademark?

The oldest known trademark is the Bass Brewery's red triangle logo, registered in 1875 in the UK, marking the beginning of modern trademark law and the protection of brand identities.

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Joshua J. Brouard brings a rich and varied background to his writing endeavors. With a bachelor of commerce degree and a major in law, he possesses an affinity for tackling business-related challenges. His first writing position at a startup proved instrumental in cultivating his robust business acumen, given his integral role in steering the company's expansion. Complementing this is his extensive track record of producing content across diverse domains for various digital marketing agencies.