A term used in trademark law to describe marks that are “merely descriptive” of the goods they are attached to, rather than distinctive and distinguishing. A trademark will not normally be issued on a “descriptive mark,” so for example, the word “Beer” generally could not be trademarked for a moderately alcoholic beverage made from hops, malt and barley.  One exception arises when the mark describes a fanciful feature of the product, e.g., GoldCard for PCMCIA cards colored gold by the manufacturer. Another can sometimes arise for descriptive marks that originated in a language other than that of the registration jurisdiction – thus for example Lufthansa, Aer Lingus and Aeroflot which mean airline respectively in German, Gaelic and Russian are all registered US trademarks.

Trademarks can also be granted for descriptive marks provided evidence of public recognition through long use of their distinctive association with the trademark applicant’s products or services, known as a secondary meaning or acquired distinctiveness, can be presented.

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