Trademarks with dictionary meanings risk becoming meaningless in Africa

By Christine Strutt

A string of recent decisions finding that a mark’s ordinary meaning negatively affects its ability to serve as a unique indicator of source could have a significant impact on brand owners

Not all trademarks are invented words. This is usually not a problem – provided that the dictionary meaning of a word or phrase used as a trademark is not descriptive, generic or commonly used in relation to the goods or services identified by that mark. Indeed, the use of meaningful words as trademarks is not only a legal principle, but a familiar concept to consumers who are accustomed to seeing terms such as ‘Apple’, ‘Orange’, ‘Subway’ and ‘Amazon’ used as trading names.

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