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Why Are Trademarks Rejected

What Is the Most Common Reason That a Trademark Might Be Rejected?



03 May 20246 min read

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What Is the Most Common Reason That a Trademark Might Be Rejected?

Navigating the intricate world of trademark registration can be daunting, yet understanding common pitfalls can significantly streamline the process.

This article delves into the most frequent reasons trademarks face rejection from regulatory bodies.

By exploring issues ranging from the likelihood of confusion to more technical format errors, we aim to equip you with the knowledge needed to enhance your chances of a successful trademark application.

Trademarking: lessons from a brand strategy executive

Image of Timothy J. Williams

“When I spearheaded the branding initiative for one of my projects, we encountered a significant hurdle when our initially proposed brand name faced rejection due to existing trademarks. 

This happened despite preliminary searches we thought were thorough. The key learning from this was the critical importance of an exhaustive, in-depth trademark search and considering potential conflicts from a global perspective, not just a local one.

To rebrand, we engaged with a professional IP attorney and utilized advanced search tools that scanned more extensive databases and included phonetic similarities and international databases. 

This process was an eye-opener; it underscored the complexities of trademark laws and the different criteria used by various countries. 

We eventually selected a brand name that cleared these higher standards, which turned out to be more distinctive and better positioned in the marketplace than our first attempt.

Through this experience, I discovered that the time and resources invested in comprehensive research upfront can save much more than just financial costs.

 It can preserve the integrity of your brand’s identity and prevent the setbacks that come from potential legal challenges. 

It’s something I prioritize and integrate into the strategic planning phase of all subsequent branding projects. 

This rebranding effort not only taught us the value of thoroughness in trademarking but also resulted in a stronger, more resilient brand presence in the market.” - Timothy J. Williams, Principal Consultant at Thinksia

Looking for the help of a registered IP attorney? Look no further! Trademarkia’s got your back with our qualified US and global intellectual property lawyers. 

1. Likelihood of confusion

One of the most common reasons for rejecting trademark applications is the "likelihood of confusion."

This occurs when a proposed trademark resembles an existing one so closely — be it in terms of sound, appearance, or meaning — that it might confuse consumers.

This resemblance can mislead consumers into thinking they're purchasing products or services from a different, often established brand.

Regulatory bodies thoroughly assess trademarks to prevent such confusion. 

They ensure each brand maintains a unique identity in the marketplace to avoid diluting the value of existing trademarks or misleading consumers about the origins of a product or service.

2. Descriptive or generic terms

Trademarks that use descriptive words or generic terms are often rejected because they lack distinctiveness.

Descriptive marks simply describe the goods or services they pertain to, such as "Quick Print" for a printing service or "Cold Ice Cream" for a dessert shop.

Such terms are considered too directly related to the specific products or services and fail to distinguish the source uniquely.

Generic marks are terms that directly describe the type or category of a product or service, such as "Salt" for sodium chloride or "Computer" for personal computing devices.

They cannot be trademarked because they're the common words used to refer to these products.

They're inherently incapable of distinguishing the products or services of one business from those of another and thus fail to function as trademarks.

Trademark law requires that marks must serve as identifiable symbols to the consumers, distinguishing one company's goods or services from another's, which generic or merely descriptive terms cannot adequately do.

Want to explore the trademark registration process? Read our guide “The Trademark Registration Process in 4 Key Stages.”

3. Deceptively misdescriptive

Trademarks that are considered deceptively misdescriptive are rejected because they could potentially mislead consumers about the following:

  • Nature,
  • Quality,
  • Or characteristics of the goods or services they represent.

For instance, a trademark like "Organic Cookies" for cookies that don't contain organic ingredients is misleading and suggests a quality that does not exist.

This deception could lead consumers to make choices based on incorrect assumptions, affecting their satisfaction and trust, and thereby, isn’t permitted under trademark law.

4. Geographically descriptive

Trademarks that primarily indicate the geographic location of a product or service are usually rejected by the examining attorney unless they’ve developed a secondary meaning that associates the geographic term with a particular source or brand in the public's minds.

For example, a coffee shop named "Seattle Brews" could be rejected if it's not actually based in Seattle, as it suggests a misleading geographical origin.

This rule aims to prevent businesses from gaining an unfair advantage by using a location name that suggests a false origin or quality associated with that place.

5. Prohibited or unauthorized marks

Trademark applications that include prohibited or unauthorized content are rejected to maintain public order and protect rights.

Trademarks that incorporate national symbols, flags, or government insignias without permission and those that contain offensive, vulgar, or disparaging terms are not eligible for registration.

Also, trademarks that could imply a false connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, especially without consent, are prohibited.

This ensures that trademarks respect the societal values and legal rights of others.

6. Format issues

Technicalities can also lead to the rejection of your trademark applications.

Format issues include errors in the application process, such as:

  • Incorrect filing formats,
  • Incomplete forms,
  • Or improper submission of the specimen showing how the trademark is used in commerce.

Additionally, incorrect classification of goods or services and failure to pay the appropriate fees can result in rejection.

Ensuring that all procedural requirements are meticulously followed is crucial for successfully registering a trademark, as these format issues can delay or prevent the approval of an otherwise registrable mark.

7. Ornamentation

Ornamentation refers to the decorative feature of a product that isn't inherently distinctive enough to indicate the source of the goods to consumers.

In trademark law, features of a product or its packaging that serve merely ornamental or aesthetic purposes often face challenges in registration because they fail to function as trademarks.

The primary function of a trademark is to identify the manufacturer or source of the product rather than just decorate it.

For example, a floral pattern on a line of clothing or a unique color scheme on a watch face might be seen as enhancing the product's appeal rather than indicating its origin.

Such elements can be integral to the product's design but don't necessarily tell the consumer who made it.

To qualify for trademark protection, an ornamental design must acquire secondary meaning—where consumers recognize the design as a brand identifier through extensive and exclusive use in the marketplace.

Until that level of recognition is achieved, the design is considered merely decorative and not indicative of the source — leading to trademark refusal.

When applying for a trademark on potentially ornamental aspects, businesses must demonstrate that their designs have acquired distinctiveness through:

  • Long-term use,
  • Widespread recognition,
  • And marketing efforts that promote the design as a brand identifier.

Without this established secondary meaning, ornamental designs are unlikely to meet the criteria necessary for trademark protection.

8. Surname

In trademark law, surnames (family names) generally face obstacles in registration (and are often refused registration) because they are not considered inherently distinctive.

This means that just because a name is associated with a product or service, it does not automatically qualify as a trademark.

The primary reason is that surnames are common and could potentially belong to many individuals, making it difficult for consumers to associate the name with a specific source of goods or services.

A surname must acquire a secondary meaning to be registered as a trademark.

This occurs when the public recognizes the surname not just as a common last name but as a specific indicator of the source of goods or services.

Examples of surnames that have achieved this status include McDonald's, Ford, and Gucci.

These names have transcended their ordinary status as family names and are now firmly associated in the public mind with specific commercial sources.

The process of establishing secondary meaning involves extensive and continuous use of the surname in commerce, substantial marketing efforts, and a strong presence in the marketplace.

Only when a surname has clearly become associated with particular goods or services in the minds of consumers does it overcome the initial barrier to registration as a trademark.

Protect your trademark with a licensed attorney

Successful trademark registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) involves navigating various potential hurdles that can impede your application.

Understanding the common reasons for rejection during the trademark application process — such as confusion with existing trademarks, descriptive nature, and improper formatting — can help you prepare a stronger application.

To ensure that your trademark stands the best chance of approval and to navigate the complexities of trademark law, consider seeking professional advice.

For expert assistance, visit Trademarkia, where you can connect with an experienced trademark attorney who will guide you through every step of the process and help secure the protection your brand deserves.

Get your registered trademarks with Trademarkia today.


What makes a trademark invalid?

A trademark can be declared invalid if it lacks distinctiveness, is generic, descriptive, or misleading about the product or service, or infringes on an existing trademark.

What is the weakest trademark?

The weakest trademarks are "generic" trademarks, which use common terms directly descriptive of goods or services, such as "Cold Beer" for a beer brand.

How can a company lose its right to use a trademark?

A company can lose its right to use a trademark if it stops using it for an extended period without intent to resume its use, which leads to it becoming "abandoned."

When can you lose a trademark?

A trademark can be lost through abandonment (non-use for an extended period), improper licensing or assignment, or becoming genericized (where it becomes the common name for the products or services).

Can you oppose a trademark after registration?

Yes, it's possible to oppose a trademark even after its registration. In many jurisdictions, there are post-registration procedures where one can challenge a trademark's validity or allege it was improperly registered.

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