Is it possible to trademark a common phrase or saying? Is there even a good reason to do so?
Frankly, the answers can be complicated. If you're a company or an individual who is thinking about trying to trademark a catchphrase or another saying, there are a few things you need to know before you start.
Why Would You Try To Trademark A Catchphrase?
A "catchphrase" is a signature remark or saying that becomes indelibly linked with a certain person. Depending on your age, some famous catchphrases you might remember include, "Kiss my grits!" by "Flo" in Alice or "Did I say that?" by Steve Urkel in Family Matters.
The number one reason that people or companies trademark a catchphrase is that catchphrases can have a tremendous value in marketing. Once a phrase has become iconic and matched with a certain celebrity or brand, it can be used in promotions and merchandise and become a significant money-maker.
When Can You Trademark A Catchphrase?
This is a much more complicated question. While difficult to do, trademarking a catchphrase isn't impossible. For example, actress Paris Hilton successfully trademarked and defended the catchphrase, "That's hot." On the other hand, musician Cardi B just recently found out that the United States Patent and Trademark Office denied her application to trademark the phrase "Okurr" on the basis that the phrase is too commonplace.
Why is one phrase deemed unique enough and attached to an individual or corporate identity and the other not? It largely has to do with how the phrase came to prominence in the consumer mindset. In the case of "That's hot," the phrase seems to have originated in popular use through Hilton herself. On the other hand, Cardi B admits that she co-opted the phrase "Okurr" from the celebrity Kardashian family. In turn, the Kardashians may have picked the phrase up from a drag performer on RuPaul's Drag Race.
What Does Trademarking A Catchphrase Do?
Trademarking a catchphrase doesn't prohibit anyone else from using that phrase entirely. Instead, it limits someone's ability to use the phrase with similar goods and services if doing so would create confusion among consumers about the source of the material. For example, a t-shirt with the phrase "That's Hot!" and Hilton's photo on it might confuse consumers about who was selling the shirt. They might believe that the product was Hilton's own clothing line and be willing to pay more than they would for something produced by a third party.
Trademarking a catchphrase isn't an easy proposition, but it's definitely worth your investment if the catchphrase has strong marketing potential. A trademark attorney can help you understand your options and guide you through the process.
For more inforamtion, contact a law firm like Lingbeck Law Office