Can a single letter function as a trade mark?

Single-letter marks such as “a” or “z” are examples of a term called ‘nondescript marks’. Nondescript marks are letters or numbers (either alone or in combination with others) that lack distinctive character, an aspect required in order to let them function as trademarks.  Therefore, article 3 from the Trade Mark Directive explains that trademarks that lack distinctive character or serve in the trade to designate the characteristics of the goods or services for which registration is sought cannot be registered.

Although nondescript marks are usually lacking the sufficient distinctiveness to enable registration, there are circumstances where it can be registered, however this is mainly where the applicant can provide substantial evidence to show that the mark has become associated with the one business.

Examples of nondescript marks are:

  1.  Single letter marks
  2. With certain exceptions, double letter marks such as “ab” or “cl”
  3. Numbers (whether alone or in combination with others)
  4. A number spelt as a word (e.g. “seven”)
  5. With certain exceptions, one or two letters spelt as a word (e.g. ojay)

Article by Harry Jeffries / Southampton Solent Law School Student

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