When a person thinks of a trademark, most picture a logo of some sort. The swooping Coca Cola brand name is the classic example. Another example is the big red “O” you see in the television commercials for Overstock.com. Such examples of trademarks are fairly standard and most people can understand them without much effort.
The thing that surprises many people is you cheap bongs can trademark many things other than a logo. The key to making the determination is to understand the definition. A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, device or combination thereof. The thing to be trademarked must be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods or services of the applying party from those of others.
This rather broad definition can lead to some interesting trademarks. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but you could never trademark an apple if you grew and sold them. The word is simply too common and does not distinguish your apples from anyone else. If you built a computer, however, and called it Apple, you can get a trademark. Why? The commonly used word is being applied to an area of commerce where it is not commonly used. Further, it clearly distinguishes a particular type of computer from others in the business field.
A unique phrase can also be trademarked in appropriate situations if it distinguishes the product or service line clearly to the consumer world. “Just do it” is a phrase that is not unique or abstract in and of itself. When applied to Nike advertising and media, however, it is distinct and tells the consumer the product being supplied is from Nike. As a result, the phrase can be trademarked.
Perhaps the most unique trademark is one for sound. Certain sounds are associated with products or services and thus can be trademarked. A classic example is the bonging noise used on the Law and Order television show. When a person hears the noise, they immediately associate it with the show.
Obviously, the issue of whether something can be trademarked is a complex issue. You cannot just walk around trademarking various sounds and such. The Patent and Trademark Office wants to see some practical application in commerce that is known by people. That being said, do not assume that you can’t trademark something just because it is not a logo.