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Suggestive Trademarks

Article by Neelam Dahiya

In the realm of branding, suggestive exert a unique power, entrancing consumers’ imaginations while leaving room for interpretations.  Unlike descriptive marks which directly convey qualities or characteristics of a product or service, suggestive marks hint to their nature, sparking curiosity and engagement.    There is no specific definition for what constitutes a suggestive mark. However, the mark is most likely suggestive when consumers need to use their imaginations to make a mental connection between a trademark and a product or service.

A suggestive trademark is a unique mark that does not explicitly say or identify a good or service, but rather makes references to certain aspects of it. Although suggestive trademarks don’t explicitly state it, there is some relationship between them with a good or service, even though it isn’t instantly obvious. Customers must therefore use their imagination to make the connection between the mark and the product.

Suggestive trademarks do not directly or instantly convey the characteristics, attributes, or features of a good, service, or company. Trademarks that are suggestive use words or designs that make references to particular qualities and/or characteristics of the goods or services they represent, without explicitly stating them.

The test for whether a trademark is suggestive is:

Does the mark hint or allude to a quality, characteristic, or property of the product, service, or business that it brands so that thought or imagination is required to make the connection?

Trademarks that convey quality or characteristics of products or services directly or immediately are not considered suggestive trademarks.

At their core, suggestive trademarks strive a slight balance between clarity and intrigue. They have some association with a product or service, but that association or connection is not direct.  The need imagination, thought to connect the mark to the nature or quality of the trademarks. By evoking an idea or concept related to the product or service without explicitly describing it, these marks invite consumers to participate in the brand’s narrative.  Take “Netflix” for example.  The name suggests a combination of “internet” and “flicks”, subtly indicating the platform’s focus on streaming movies and TV shows online without explicitly stating it.

Suggestive trademarks have the power to evoke emotions and create memorable experiences for consumers.  Whether through clever wordplay, subtle imagery, or cultural references, these trademarks leave a lasting impression on the audiences on a deeper level.  Consider the iconic Nike swoosh, the logo is derived from goddess’ wing, ‘swoosh’, which suggests movement and speed without explicitly stating it.  This simple yet powerful symbol has become synonymous with athleticism, inspiring millions around the world to “just do it”.

Here are a few more examples of famous trademarks which are suggestive in nature:

  1. Microsoft: suggests software for microcomputers
  2. Jaguar (car): suggests speed and elegance, like the animal
  3. AIRBUS: is suggestive of air travel/airplanes
  4. PINTEREST: is suggestive as the name alludes to “pinned images of interest”
  5. Citibank: suggests financial (banking) services in cities

In India, suggestive trademarks have been recognized and upheld by the courts as valid and protectable.  Here are a few notable case laws that highlight the significance of suggestive trademarks:

  1. Godfrey Phillips India Ltd. Vs Girnar Food & Beverages Pvt. Ltd. (2010): In this case, the Delhi High Court held that he trademark “FLYING SAUCER” for biscuits was suggestive rather than descriptive. The court emphasized that the mark did not directly describe the characteristics or qualities of the product but instead suggested an association with the product, the warranting protection.
  2. Himalaya Drug Company vs S.B.L. Ltd. (2013): The Delhi High Court ruled in favour of plaintiff, Himalaya Drug company stating that the trademark “LIV.52” for a liver tonic was suggestive and distinctive. The court held that while the mark hinted at the product’s purpose (liver health0, it did so indirectly are required consumers to exercise imagination and perception to make connection.
  3. Pernond Ricard SA vs Bacardi& Company Ltd. (2018): In this case, the Delhi High Court recognized the trademark “IMPERIAL BLUE” for whiskey as suggestive rather than descriptive. The court held that while the mark alluded to the product’s quality or character, it did not directly describe it, thus meriting protection under trademark law.

These cases illustrate the Indian judiciary’s stance on suggestive trademarks, emphasising the importance of creativity, distinctiveness, and consumer perception in determining trademark validity and protection.

Suggestive marks, which require consumers to make a mental leap to connect them with the associated products or services, are recognized as valuable assets deserving of legal protection in India’s trademark jurisprudence.  In conclusion, suggestive trademarks represent a powerful tool for brands looking to make a lasting impression in the minds of consumers.  In an ever-evolving marketplace, the ability to evoke emotion, spark curiosity, and foster connection is essential for building strong enduring brands.