trademarks and linguistics

Verbal branding success demands more than great creative work: creativity has to be combined with due diligence and effective management of practical matters. Two practical challenges inherent in every name development effort are:

Metaphor has extensive experience helping clients successfully navigate these legal and linguistic minefields. Our name development process is designed to help clients "knock out" unavailable or inappropriate name candidates and focus in on the "right" name solution.

Trademark Clearance

"Owning" a name -- holding the registration to a trademark -- means having the legal right to use it in everything from advertising and marketing materials to product packaging. What's more, ownership of a name confers the right to keep others from using it and undercutting your company's marketing efforts. (Metaphor's Trademark Primer discusses what types of names are easiest to register and why.)

At Metaphor, we strongly recommend that clients involve their trademark counsel at the beginning of every name development program. Metaphor is a member of the International Trademark Association and would be happy to assist you in establishing a relationship with appropriate counsel, if you so desire. A meaningful dialogue with your trademark attorneys early in the process will pay off in greater confidence and clarity in the final stages of selecting your new name. Questions to raise include:

Few names will be absolutely clear in all markets. Determining legal availability is often a judgment call, requiring detailed knowledge of recent decisions in a given country. Your counsel will advise you about the amount of risk involved in adopting a name. You should also discuss in advance how much risk is acceptable or appropriate for your situation.

A typical search strategy for a product name might include the following steps and could take anywhere from one to six weeks:

Establishing a name's availability to be registered as a trademark begins with screening new name candidates against the names already out there to identify conflicts. Before making our recommendations, Metaphor performs preliminary "direct hit" trademark screening to eliminate name candidates with obvious conflicts, using comprehensive online trademark databases. Following that due diligence step, the client's trademark counsel conducts in-depth legal searches on a short list of finalists selected from among Metaphor's recommendations.

Cultural and Linguistic Appropriateness

Large corporations have been doing business internationally and cross-culturally for centuries; today, it's hard to imagine that there isn't a global or multicultural audience for almost any business. Most names are either real words or coined words constructed from word roots that have meaning in one language or another. It would be impossible, however, to find a name that has the same meaning across the globe -- or even the same spelling and pronunciation.

Ensuring that our clients' preferred name candidates have the capacity to communicate the message they need to convey in all applicable markets is a practical matter of great importance. To help clients avoid a potential linguistic (and thus marketing) disaster, international linguistic assessment is a key component of Metaphor's process.

The name you ultimately take to market should have no unfortunate, insulting, or unintended humorous meaning in any of the languages spoken in the markets you want to reach. It is critical, therefore, to be aware of any potential cultural negatives with your new name candidate before it becomes the butt of a joke, or worse.

In a single country there are an enormous number of words and phrases that enter common speech or acquire new uses and associations every year. Dictionaries can't keep up with slang, music, movies, books, television, and news reports, to name only a few of the many sources of new and "re-purposed" vocabulary. Thus, screening for linguistic and cultural appropriateness needs to go beyond the static translations given in textbooks and reference materials. In order to take popular culture into consideration, people living within the culture must be consulted.

Metaphor has long-standing relationships with international translation companies through which we facilitate in-country native speaker evaluations of your finalist names both to identify positive meanings and to anticipate and avoid problems. We can provide information on the reception of each name candidate in your key international markets with regard to:

For more information on our linguistic screening services, please contact our in-house linguist, Juli Carter.

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