It depends upon how the word is used as a trademark.  In each of the examples you gave, the common word isn’t used to stand for itself but for a different thing entirely.  For instance, Amazon has nothing to do with the river, and its alternate meaning – a large race of women who are known to be warriors – doesn’t describe the brand we know or what it stands for. The same is true for Apple, Virgin, Canon, Sharp and Adobe. These are all classified as “arbitrary” marks, or marks that have a common meaning that has no relation to the goods or services being sold. The important thing about a trademark is that it stands for a product or service and that is what instantly comes to mind when you talk about Apple.  You would never be confused and think that people are talking about the fruit when people talk about Apple, because of the context it’s used in.  Therefore, the mark is strong and a good choice. The first and last names are permissible because they stand for a product or the food chain – something different from what they are normally used for.



  1. An example of a trademark that was not permitted is a person who made lipsticks and wanted to trademark the word “Lipstix”. The person argued that even though it sounded phonetically like lipstick – the very product she was selling – that the intent was to advertise that her lipstick sticks to lips more than other lipstick, and that is what everyone would immediately think of when they saw the trademark “Lipstix”. It didn’t fly. Nobody agreed that it was the first thing you thought of, and even if it had been, it still might not qualify as a trademark because it was identical – or too close – to the actual product.


  1. A common word may be registered as a trademark so long as it is not primarily the common name of the goods or services on which it is used. A term that is primarily the common name of the goods/services is “generic” and can never be a trademark. For example, while Shoes cannot be registered as a trademark for footwear, it might be registered for something unrelated, like software, because Shoes is not primarily a common name for software. It is not the fact that this is a common word that is a problem for trademark use but rather it is whether the common word is primarily a common name of the goods or services on which it is used. Here you want to use an acronym that is phonetically a common word so the same analysis will apply. If the acronym is the phonetic equivalent of the common name of the goods/services on which it is to be used, you will run into the same generic issue.


Maybe. Common words and phrases can be trademarked if the person or company seeking the trademark can demonstrate that the phrase has acquired a distinctive secondary meaning apart from its original meaning. That secondary meaning must be one that identifies the phrase with a particular good or service. In this particular case, the Beamer Foundation wants to trademark “Let’s roll” for use with “charitable fundraising services.” Legal experts say that it’s unlikely that the Beamer trademark would survive a legal challenge, but it’s not inconceivable.