Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A.

Don't Miss the Mark: Choosing a Standard Character Mark or Stylized Logo in Your Trademark Application

Filing a trademark application with the U.S. Trademark Office can be a confusing endeavor for the uninitiated. And while the trademark office has gone to great lengths to teach users about the process through videos and how-to instructions, the variety of choices can sometimes leave users confused about the impact their decisions have on the long-term viability of their trademark. One such choice involves deciding which type of mark to apply for: a standard character mark or a stylized logo.

What is a standard character mark (word mark)? A standard character mark is one that protects the use of a word or phrase. Although many people believe a trademark is always a stylized, one-of-a-kind design, this is not the case with a word mark. A word mark, and the protections afforded to it, are actually pretty boring design-wise. But that's a good thing in this context. This is because a standard character or word mark protects the word or phrase itself, regardless of how it appears on the page, the screen or the billboard. In other words, once the word mark is protected as a trademark, it doesn't matter if a company prints the word or phrase in tall thin blue letters or short bubbly pink letters. And it doesn't matter if the company adds a logo or leaves the words plain.  The word mark is protected in any font, style or color you choose. That's a lot of protection.

What is a stylized logo (design mark)?

A stylized logo, on the other hand, can include words, but it doesn't need to. And if no words are used in the stylized logo, then your choice is an easy one, because you can't register a "word mark" without any actual words. But a design mark is more restrictive and limiting than a word mark because a design mark does not allow the owner to modify the design. With a stylized logo, fonts and colors do matter. If the design is modified in the future, another design mark can be applied for, at additional cost.

Don't Miss the Best Mark.

When applying for a trademark, companies generally choose to seek the broadest protections possible and to protect as much of their intellectual property as they can reasonably afford to protect. Word marks are an excellent choice for cost-effective protection, particularly for smaller companies or companies that want to maintain flexibility to use a phrase or slogan in a variety of formats. Stylized logos offer the benefit of providing highly specific protections. Examples would include the Nike Swoosh or the Target stores red target logo. These stylized logos are protected in different applications, some with words and some without words, each through a separate design mark application. The decision to choose a word mark or design mark is often based on a series of factors, including branding goals and cost considerations.


The trademark office requires that each application for a trademark include a drawing. For a design mark, a user needs to bring a drawing to the application process by uploading an acceptable design file in jpeg or PDF format. With a word mark, the trademark office generates a drawing for the applicant using the characters/words typed into the application.

Closing Thoughts

Even where a word or phrase is registered, a company may still choose to register a slogan and a stylized logo design in order to protect as much of its brand as possible.

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At Dougherty, Molenda, Solfest, Hills & Bauer P.A., we represent clients from Apple Valley, MN, and throughout the state, including Burnsville, Lakeville, Eagan, Mendota Heights, Rosemount, Farmington, West St. Paul, Minneapolis, Prior Lake, Savage, Shakopee, Elko-New Market, Dakota County, Scott County, Hennepin County, Ramsey County and other communities south of the river.