Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is THUMBDRIVE a Generic Term or a Registerable Trademark?

The question of what is or isn't protectible as a trademark comes up all the time. ESCALATOR, THERMOS, ASPIRIN and even HEROIN were all registered trademarks at one point in time, but for a variety of reasons they became unprotectible generic terms. On the other hand, KLEENEX®, FRISBEE®, and XEROX® still remain protectible trademarks. Go figure.

What about THUMBDRIVE for flash drives? Is it a protectible trademark or an unprotectible generic term? The U.S Patent & Trademark Office has just issued a very interesting ruling that answers this question.

Why is this important? Because it highlights the problems with choosing descriptive or generic terms as trademarks for goods or services. Yes, the applicant for the THUMBDRIVE trademark registration ultimately won. But it took several years and probably several tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to get there. Most entrepreneurs and small businesses can't waste that much time or risk that much money. It is therefore much wiser to choose a unique, clever, fanciful and easy-to-remember name for a trademark than a weak descriptive or unprotectible term.