What can be trademarked is a very broad question. What can’t be trademarked is a better question. Almost anything can be trademarked given the context. Brown (the color) can be trademarked if based in a specific service. UPS has the trademark brown color for their uniforms, but you couldn’t trademark the color brown by itself.
The biggest difference in what can be trademarks is how difficult it is to acquire them.
Names that are inherently descriptive are difficult to receive. A name such as “Shoe Store” wouldn’t receive trademark protection. Even unique spellings of a descriptive name such as “Shu Store”, wouldn’t qualify. The only way a descriptive term can achieve trademark registration is if they have a secondary meaning. The best example is Chapstick. These type of trademarks require use of the product for numerous years prior to receiving a trademark registration.
Random or Arbitrary Names
A random name that usually wouldn’t be associated with the product is often easy to trademark. These are usually common words used in unexpected ways. Some of the more prominent companies that have names like this are: Penguin for books, Apple for computers or Camel for cigarettes.
A suggestive term doesn’t provide any descriptive of a product or feature but will evoke an emotional or positive response. A perfume named “Obsession” would be a great example of a suggestive term. Sometimes the line between suggestive and descriptive becomes blurry. If your trademark idea could go either way, you may want to attempt a trademark anyway, the USPTO will often decide in favor of the applicant.
Fanciful or Made-up Names or Coined
These are some of the easiest trademarks to acquire. Usually a made-up name doesn’t require any showing of distinctiveness. Asus for computers is a great example of a made up name or Lego. These names have nothing to do with the product or description and and created a lot of different ways. Asus for example is named after the mythical Pegasus. The creators just dropped the first 3 letters.
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