To register your trademark with the U.S. Trademark Office, you have to submit a “specimen” showing:

  • the trademark
  • used on or in connection with
  • the goods or services.

Lots of people find specimens confusing. Let’s see if I can help with that.

Specimens of things you can touch are pretty straightforward: You submit a picture of the thing or the thing’s package. The picture above has images that could work as specimens for 34 different trademarks.*

78912690 copy.png

But what kind of specimen does the Trademark Office want for something you can’t photograph, like computer software?

We used to submit pictures of the disc. Here’s the specimen submitted by AOL for software in 2006.

Today, most software is either downloaded or SaaS, so what do we use now?

Screen Shot 2019-06-20 at 9.07.34 AM.png

To the right is an excellent specimen for the trademark QUICKBOOKS for SaaS:

  • QUICKBOOKS is clearly visible.
  • It’s a sign-in page so it shows “use.”
  • It’s clear that QUICKBOOKS is a trademark for SaaS.


Here’s an excellent specimen for ZYNGA for downloadable software:

  • The word ZYNGA is clearly visible.
  • It’s an actual screen shot from a phone so it shows “use.”
  • It’s clear this is a mobile software app.


This is NOT an acceptable specimen for KISI for software. The trademark KISI doesn’t appear anywhere.

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 10.54.35 AM.png

This is NOT an acceptable specimen for MINECRAFT for software:

  • It’s not clearly in “use”. This could just be an ad for a game that’s going to be released next month.
  • It’s not clear it’s software. This could be a board game.

You gotta have all three: The trademark; in use; for the goods and services in your application. If you’re missing any one of those requirements, it won’t work as a specimen.


*Here’s the list.

  • Revlon® for hairbrushes
  • Aveeno® in plain font for skin lotion
  • Aveeno® in stylized font for skin lotion
  • Active Naturals® for skin lotion
  • Scotch® for tape
  • The tartan pattern used by Scotch brand
  • Magic™ used by Scotch brand
  • 3M® (on the Scotch brand tape dispenser)
  • KleenEARTH® in plain font for scissors
  • KleenEARTH® in stylized font for scissors
  • The “W with an arrow through it” logo for scissors
  • iPhone® for mobile phones
  • Semikolon® for paper products
  • Amarelli® in plain font for candy
  • Amarelli® in stylized font for candy
  • Amarelli® in a different stylized font for candy
  • Quartet® for markers
  • Artgum® in plain font for erasers
  • Artgum® in stylized font for erasers
  • Prismacolor® for erasers
  • Expo® in plain font for markers
  • Expo® in stylized font for markers
  • Pentel® in plain font for erasers
  • Pentel® in stylized font for erasers
  • Hi-Polymer® for erasers
  • Mead® for envelopes
  • Paperpro® for staplers
  • Bobino® for cord holders
  • Swingline® in plain font for hole-punchers
  • Swingline® in stylized font for hole-punchers
  • Krazy® for adhesives
  • Gold® for batteries
  • Leatherman® for tools
  • Quartet® for erasers

If I had been more careful with way I oriented the stuff, there would have been 6 more:

  • Bic® in plain font for markers
  • Bic® in stylized font for markers
  • Quartet® for markers
  • Enduraglide® for markers
  • Twinings®  in plain font for tea
  • Twinings® in stylized font for tea


Flags and National Symbols

Let me tell you about an arcane crevice of the law that covers flags and national symbols as trademarks.

Have I lost you already? Oh, c’mon. It’ll be fun. There are pictures. And a quiz at the end!

Great. Let’s go.

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You can NOT register a trademark that includes the flag of the United States, any state, or any foreign nation.[1]  So the stuff to the left are no-nos.

So far, so good.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 2.50.26 PM.pngThe trademark to the right is OK, because you CAN register a flag if:

  • it’s substantially obscured by words or designs,
  • it’s used to form a letter, number, or design,
  • it’s not in a shape normally seen in flags,
  • it appears in a color different from the national flag, or
  • a significant feature is missing or changed.

You CAN register a trademark that contains a monument, statue, or building associated with a country. So, each of these is OK.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 3.58.43 PM.png

Still with me?

There are more than 150 statutes that prohibit use of certain other stuff as a trademark, for example: Boy Scouts of America, CIA, F.B.I., Four-H Club, Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute, Little League, Woodsy Owl.[2]

To summarize:

  • You can NOT register a flag of the U.S., state, or foreign country;
  • You CAN register a trademark with a flag as long as it’s hidden or weird somehow;
  • You CAN register a non-flag national symbol;
  • You can NOT register national symbols if there’s a statute that says you can’t.

Quiz time! Which of these can be registered? Answers are below.[3]

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 4.07.06 PM.png


If you didn’t enjoy this, blame Julie W. She suggested I write about it.



[1] 15 U.S.C. §1052 (b)

[2] There’s a non-exhaustive list of these statutes here: https://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/TMEP/current#/current/TMEP-Cd1e1.html

[3]  Here are the answers to the quiz.

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Sound and Smell Trademarks

When most people think of trademarks, they think of words like Coke® or logos like the Nike® swoosh but trademarks can be anything that tells you where a product or service came from, like the shape of a bottle or building, or a sound or smell.

We can track the rise of sound and smell trademarks because they are filed under “Mark Drawing Code 6” for “situations for which no drawing is possible.” The first application under Mark Drawing Code 6 was filed in 1947. Here’s how the trademark is described:

The mark comprises the musical notes G, E, C, played on chimes.

Can you figure out what this very familiar trademark is just from the description? If not, try singing or whistling it or you can just check out the answer below.

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 9.33.03 AM.png

There were only two applications for sound and smell trademarks filed in the 1940s.

There was a total of twenty filed from 1950 through 1989, then things really took off.

So far in the 2010s, there have been 308 applications filed for “situations for which no drawing is possible.”

You are immersed in these sounds all day. Can you identify these familiar sound marks? (Answers are below.)


How many could you guess? How many others can you think of?



The musical notes played on chimes is the NBC trademark.

The other sound marks are:

  • An Apple® computer booting up.
  • The THX® sound system for theaters.
  • The Pillsbury® Doughboy® giggling.
  • The Tarzan yell.