Standard Character vs. Design Trademarks

When deciding to apply for a standard character trademark or for a stylized design trademark, there are several things to consider


One of the first things to consider before filing a trademark is whether to file for a standard character trademark (often referred to as a word mark) or a stylized or design trademark, often a company’s logo. Ideally, companies would file for both stylized and standard character trademarks. However, due to budget concerns, this is not always possible, especially for smaller businesses and new start ups. There are multiple things to consider when choosing whether to file for a stylized design or standard character trademark but before making a choice, it is important to know what each offers.


Standard Character Trademarks


Standard character trademarks, often referred as “word marks,” are any combination of letters and/or numbers to formulate words, slogans, taglines etc… Standard character trademarks make no claim to particular size, colors, font style, or design elements allowing trademark owners the flexibility to present their trademark to the consumer with different fonts, colors, or as part of a logo. Standard character trademarks give broad protection to the word or phrase registered.


When a standard character trademark is registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the letters and/or numbers are given the benefits of trademark registration but the registration does not protect any design elements, colors or fonts the trademark owner may use with the trademark. For example, a standard character trademark for CATERPILLAR, the machinery company, protects any competitor from using the name CATERPILLAR or something confusingly similar in their field of goods and services. However, it would not protect any design element in the CATERPILLAR logo.


 A standard character trademark for CATERPILLAR as seen on the USPTO TESS System


This registration alone would not protect the design elements seen in the CATTERPILLAR logo below, such as the triangle element of the A seen below.



However, CATTERPILLAR also has a trademark registration for their CATERPILLAR logo so they can protect competitors from using a similar specialized letter "A" design element seen in their logo. As explained below, protecting design elements can be really important in trademark infringement cases.


A standard character trademark for CATERPILLAR as seen on the USPTO TESS System


Stylized and Design Trademarks


In addition to standard character trademarks, trademark owners can file for trademarks that consist of only a design, a design plus words and/or numbers, or for words and/or numbers in a stylized form. Unlike standard character marks, stylized and design trademarks protect the design elements of the applied for trademark in addition to the letters and numbers alone. However, the trademark owner must use the registered trademark exactly as it is registered or they will lose their trademark rights. In other words, if a trademark owner changes their logo, they would need to reapply for a trademark in order to protect their new logo's design elements.


In general, standard character trademarks can protect brands from trademark infringement because the biggest concern is a competitor using a confusingly similar trademark based on how the name looks and sounds. However, there are cases where the use of a logo, colors, and design elements used in conjunction with a word mark can be blatant trademark infringement. For example, the word marks UNDER ARMOUR and UNCLE MARTIAN used in connection with clothing do not seem likely to cause confusion to consumers because they are not similar when viewing them spelled out side by side or when saying them out loud. But when UNCLE MARTIAN, a Chinese company, revealed how they planned to use the UNCLE MARTIAN name, their logo associated with it, and the colors they used, it was obvious they were trying to confuse consumers into thinking they were UNDER ARMOUR or associated with UNDER ARMOUR (see below).


Despite the differences in UNDER ARMOUR and UNCLE MARTIAN, taken as a whole, this is a clear case of trademark infringement.


When companies have unique logos or design elements incorporated into their trademarks, it is important to seek trademark protection for those unique elements too.


If you have any questions about design trademarks or standard character trademarks, leave us a comment or contact us and we will do our best to help.

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