Can a Common Word be Trademarked?

I own a fire safe which has a registered trademark ® symbol on it. The safe is called Gold. Suddenly I wondered if a common word like that could indeed be trademarked…

Figure 1

The plain and simple answer is that when you think about it, we all know it is possible to trademark a common word because a well-known company has done exactly that. This company is called Apple.

Questions, interesting questions…

But does that mean that Apple now owns the common word apple? Can nobody else use the word apple anywhere without being sued by Apple for it? Must the fruit called apple be renamed now as not to infringe on Apple’s trademark?

First off, let’s see how Mirriam-Webster defines a trademark:

Source: Mirriam-Webster

Ownership, legally reserved, exclusive use of the owner… From this definition it seems that Apple can claim the word apple exclusively. Or can it?

The answer to this question is that the rules around trademarks are more nuanced than the definition given above. Trademarks are only issued across specific classes of goods and services so another company could without any problem trademark the same word for a product that has nothing to do with, for example, fire safes (or like devices). If there is no potential confusion between the word owned and the same word appearing in a competitor’s product, then there can be no argument for trademark infringement. Trademark infringement would only occur if the same word was trademarked by another safe manufacturer who also could prove that he used the word earlier with reference to his device.

Trademark symbols

A trademarked device can be identified using the trademark symbol ™ or ℠ or the registered trademark symbol ®. The latter can only be used if the device is officially registered as a trademark with the relevant national authority. It is illegal to use the registered trademark symbol for unregistered devices. If the mark is not registered, then the ™ or ℠ symbol should be used.

Conclusion

Back to my fire safe with the common name: so it appears that the name Gold of my safe is really officially trademarked and not just some kind of bluff.

I do not know in which country this safe was manufactured or designed so I do not know at which national authority the name most likely is (or was?) registered. But it seems quite probable to me that the word gold is trademarked at many more authorities in different countries around the world. That however would not represent any trademark infringement as long as the word gold is not being used by another safe manufacturer. Furthermore, my safe can not really be mistaken for a bar of real gold either so from that perspective the trademark quite well be officially granted to the manufacturer.


NOTE
it is also worth noticing that a word can only be trademarked if it identifies a device which is used in business. Therefore it is usually not possible to trademark your own name.


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