What’s in a Name?: “Clear” versus “Valuable”

In the development of brand names and products, lawyers are often asked to “clear” or approve the name the creative team develops. Generally, that means, “make sure we don’t get sued” and that “we can own the name.” But a clear name doesn’t always mean it’s going to be valuable or provide the impact intended. There are certain qualities or traits that make a name more valuable than simply being “clear.” And, sometimes the most valuable part of the product brand isn’t the name at all.

Clearing a name typically means verifying that no other company is using it in the same product classification in the U.S., Europe, Asia, BRIC or other geographic regions and offering an opinion as to the likelihood of ability to obtain a trademark in those regions. That’s all well and good, but a valuable brand is one that is not just “cleared.” It is so unique that it can only be identified with your product. In lawyer terms, it’s unique, fanciful or somehow not merely descriptive. In brand terms, it will capture the attention of your target market and resonate forever as a source of identification with whatever values consumers feel about your product. It’s not easy to create a valuable name – it’s much easier to merely describe the product when forming a name and then clear it. That’s why only a few make it to the top in branding.

And, more than just a name can be protected. The product and package design, colors, smell, and other aspects of the overall product brand can be protected as the trade dress associated with the product. The look, touch and feel can often be the most distinguishing component of your brand and it can be protected and last forever through the right form of intellectual property. Consider Christian Louboutin shoes with the red sole, Hermes distinctive Kelly Bag, the Herman Miller chair or White Castle’s distinctive building. All of these components define the brand and while the underlying product may evolve, the brand identity remains the same.

And, if you ask anyone involved in branding they will probably tell you that the consumer experience is driven by much more than just a name. If you can create a better consumer experience while also creating a valuable intellectual asset for your company, you have the winning combination for a homerun in branding.


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