What is a Trademark?

Definition and Examples of Trademark

Trademark. chokkicx/Getty Images

A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies a product or service and is legally owned by its manufacturer or inventor. Abbreviation, TM.

In formal writing, as a general rule, trademarks should be avoided unless specific products or services are being discussed. Exceptions are sometimes made when a trademark (for example, Taser) is better known than its generic equivalent (electroshock weapon).



The website of the International Trademark Association [INTA] includes a guide to the proper use of more than 3,000 trademarks registered in the U.S. According to the INTA, a trademark "should always be used as an adjective qualifying a generic noun that defines the product or service [for example, Ray-Ban sunglasses, not Ray-Bans]. . . . As adjectives, marks should not be used as plurals or in the possessive form, unless the mark itself is plural or possessive (such as 1-800-FLOWERS, MCDONALD’S or LEVI’S)."

Examples and Observations

  • Band-Aid
  • Chap Stick
  • Crock-Pot
  • Dolby
  • Formica
  • Freon
  • Frisbee
  • Hacky Sack
  • Hoover
  • Jacuzzi
  • Jeep
  • Jet Ski
  • Kleenex
  • Loafer
  • Lycra
  • Mace
  • Naugahyde
  • Playbill
  • Popsicle
  • Rollerblade
  • Skivvies
  • Spork
  • Taser
  • Teletype
  • Vaseline
  • Velcro
  • Windbreaker

Originally trademarks, these common names are now regarded as generic names:

  • aspirin
  • bundt cake
  • cellophane
  • ditto
  • dry ice
  • escalator
  • granola
  • heroin
  • kerosene
  • linoleum
  • LP
  • minibike
  • nylon
  • pogostick
  • tarmac
  • thermos
  • touch-tone
  • trampoline
  • wedgie
  • yo-yo
  • zipper