In case you have missed the latest news in the world of junk food, Kraft Foods will spin-off its snack foods division and market its products under the new name “Modelez”. The name has met with skepticism from industry insiders, confusion by Russian linguists, to overwhelming approval from Kraft Foods shareholders who voted to approve the name by a 90% margin.
Regardless of how one feels about altering the name of a cherished brand, from a purely trademark law perspective, the name Modelez is as solid as it gets. The United States Patent and Trademark Office evaluates the strength of a trademark based on a spectrum of distinctiveness, ranging from generic, descriptive, suggestive, arbitrary, and fanciful.
At the low end of the spectrum are the generic and descriptive business and trade names, which are difficult to trademark. Examples of these kinds of marks are something like “Long Island Plumbing Services”, a mundane business name that uses ordinary words to describe a product or service.
In the middle are the suggestive names. The classic example of a suggestive name is “Blu-Ray”, which is of course used to market hi-fi DVD’s. The name creates the inference that lasers or some form of electromagnetic light is central to the product, but it does so without merely and literally describing it.
Arbitrary trade names are stronger still. These names make arbitrary distinctions between generic words and other products. It is perfectly OK to register ”Apple” as a mark if it is slapped onto a computer, but not on a bottle of cider or a barrel of apples.
The fanciful names are the most powerful and the easiest to register with the USPTO. Words like “Xerox” and “Kodak” are both just made up words.
Mondelez is a clearly made up word that belongs on the “fanciful” part of the spectrum. It doesn’t translate into anything, even though some of its components and syllables are loosely derived from other languages. Indeed, its parent company, Kraft Foods Global Brands, has already sough trademark protection for the name (USPTO Serial Number 85579970 and 85578673).
“Mondelez Mac and Cheese” kind of works for me, but I’ll always be nostalgic for “Kraft Cheese and Macaroni”. I now have the same feeling I get whenever George Lucas monkeys around with the original Star Wars Trilogy. At least my beloved (new?) brand is on a solid IP footing, which is where every food company should be. Take this spectrum into account when choosing a name for your food business.