Abercrombie classification

Primary tabs

Abercrombie classification, taking its name from the case Abercrombie & Fitch Co. v. Hunting World Inc., refers to a system designating how generic a given trademark is for the purposes of intellectual property law. This system categorizes potential trademarks into 4 tiers of ascending trademark protection under the Lanham Act, those being:

  • Refers to the category of a given product.
    • For example, “cell phone” is a generic term.
  • Generic terms are never afforded any trademark protection.
  • ​​Terms that once qualified for trademark protection can slowly become generic and therefore lose that protection through the process of genericide
  • Refers to terms that explain how a given product works.
    • For example, “fast acting” would be a descriptive term.
  • Descriptive terms are generally not afforded any trademark protection although if it can be shown that a descriptive term has acquired some secondary meaning that is associable with a given party, it may still be applicable for trademark protection.
  • Refers to terms that bridge the gap between purely descriptive and purely arbitrary/fanciful.
  • These terms require thought and imagination to deduce the intended conclusion about the underlying good.
    • “Orange Crush” soda is the archetypical example of a suggestive term.
  • Suggestive terms are entitled to trademark protection even without a secondary meaning.  
  • Refers to terms that are not descriptive of the given product at all.
  • Arbitrary terms are standard words used in unconventional contexts such that no one could mistake the product for its generic equivalent.
    • For example, “Apple” is an arbitrary term to describe a computer hardware/software company.
  • Fanciful terms are terms invented by the trademark seeker for the express purpose of naming a given product.
  • Arbitrary/fanciful terms are entitled to the highest degree of trademark protection.

Generally, as you ascend the Abercrombie classification scheme, it becomes easier to prove trademark infringement as you need less evidence to make your case. 

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]