Trademark Questions: What’s the Difference Between the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register?

The US trademark register has two sections: the Principal Register and the Supplemental Register.  Most trademarks are registered in the Principal Register.  The Supplemental register is used for non distinctive marks that may become distinctive (“acquire secondary meaning,”) but have not yet done so.

What is secondary meaning? 

Secondary meaning, or “acquired distinctiveness,” is when a non-distinctive mark becomes known to consumers due to use of the mark. The amount of use needed to prove secondary meaning varies, but a presumption of secondary meaning arises after five years of continuous and exclusive use.

Marks registrable on the Supplemental Register include: 

  • descriptive marks that are capable of acquiring distinctiveness,
  • surnames,
  • geographic terms, and
  • nondistinctive, nonfunctional trade dress.

What rights are provided by registering a mark on the Supplemental Register? 

A registration on the Supplemental Register grants its owner the right to use the registered ® symbol when the mark is used. A registration on the Supplemental Register will also block later-filed applications for confusingly similar marks for related goods.

How does a registration on the Supplemental Register differ from the Principal Register? 

Supplemental Registration does not carry the presumptions of validity, ownership or the exclusive right to use. A Supplemental Registration cannot be used to stop importation of counterfeit products and can never become incontestable.

Can a mark registered on the Supplemental Register be converted to the Principal Register? 

No. However, the owner of a mark filed in the Supplemental Register can file a new application in the Principal Register, if the trademark owner has used the mark enough so that it has acquired secondary meaning for consumers.

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