What can be Trademarked? You'd be Surprised.

Because it is a powerful tool for indicating the source of a good or service, Chicago business lawyers advise companies to protect their intellectual property by obtaining trademark registrations. Most items subject to trademark protection fall into one of the following categories: a phrase, a word, a logo, a symbol, an image, or a design. However, trademark protection has also been extended to various "unconventional" things including color, smell and sound.

One company that has been especially pronounced in obtaining trademark protection for unconventional items is Apple Inc. As trademark protection is very important to businesses, it is no surprise that the company has recently obtained a trademark on every possible use of "iCloud." However, this is not the first time that Apple received trademark protection for its products. In June of 2004, Apple obtained a trademark for the artistic depiction of half of an apple, while in July of 2006, the company received trademark protection for the outline of a human with a compact disk. Since then, the company has obtained numerous seemingly unconventional marks on everything from the packing of its iPhone to its glass cube retail store.

Although it is not uncommon for companies to be aggressive in protecting the image of their product, Chicago business lawyers may argue that Apple has been a little too aggressive in protecting its intellectual property. Such a perspective is supported by the company's recent suit against Samsung for purportedly infringing on Apple's trademarked packaging and icons. Getting trademark protection for odd items is, however, also quite difficult. Obtaining a nontraditional trademark requires the seeker of the trademark to convince the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the average consumer will associate the design in question only with the company trying to get the trademark and it takes many years to build such an association in the minds of consumers.

If you are a Chicago business owner seeking nontraditional trademark protection, Chicago business lawyers recommend pursuing the following steps: 1) provide a unique name for the product and get a traditional trademark; 2) get utility and design patents so that you can begin creating a barrier against competitors and a link to nontraditional trademarks; 3) make ads that spotlights the features that form the foundation of the association with the company; 4) apply for more traditional trademarks that help strengthen the association and boost the product; and 5) apply for the nontraditional trademark.

This item was prepared by summer research assistant Yelena R. Please contact Jeremy Gibson to discuss nontraditional trademark or other Chicago intellectual property law matters.