How to Trademark a Phrase in 2020
Trademarking a Phrase: Why It Matters
If you are reading this article, you likely already understand that branding really is everything and can make or break the success of a company. This is true for both large and small businesses alike and drives creative efforts to embue the mental conception of a company with a belief and feeling that creates a positive emotional response.
When a company trademarks a phrase, it is claiming a proprietary right to the phrase in conjunction with a specific set of goods/services. No other shoe company besides NIKE can put on a marketing campaign, Just Do It, because Nike owns the trademark on this powerful phrase.
NOTE: If a proposed trademark consists of a phrase that is entirely generic, descriptive, informational, or is otherwise not being used as a trademark vis-a-vis the goods sold by the trademark holder, the phrase will not be considered a “trademark” and will be denied registrability by the USPTO.
What is a Phrase?
Successful companies employ clever branding strategies to make their brands known and instantaneously recognizable. JUST DO IT, IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING, GOT MILK, THINK DIFFERENT…. The list goes on and on. Phrases, slogans, or taglines, are all linguistic word-devices which upon viewing, impart powerful messaging and ideally, even feelings.
Well, as it turns out, Phrases, Slogans, and Taglines have a legal meaning as well. According to the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP),
“A phrase is “a group of words that are used together in a fixed expression,” “two or more words in sequence that form a syntactic unit that is less than a complete sentence,” and “a sequence of two or more words arranged in a grammatical construction and acting as a unit in a sentence.”
Perhaps the USPTO could have written this definition a bit better but the central idea is that a “phrase” emerges from a series of words when the “phrase” is is something more than the sum of its parts. Thus, “Impossible Is Nothing”, is a phrase because when the word Impossible is put before the word Is, and then the word, Nothing, there is an emergent message and idea that is communicated.
When You Develop the Right Slogan, People Remember It
On the most fundamental level, a trademark is a source-identifier which is (but doesn’t need to be) registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). When a consumer sees a trademarked phrase tethered to a particular good/service, the consumer immediately understands the source-company of that good/service. Consider for the moment the Addidas slogan, IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING. If a person holds a favorable view of the Addidas Corporation, merely seeing this phrase printed on a sneaker box will likely be enough for the individual to think positive thoughts about the shoes. “The shoe is made by Addidas – it must be high quality”. However, if a person holds negative thoughts about the Addidas Corporation, merely seeing this trademarked Phrase will elicit negative feelings about the sneakers. “The shoe is made by Addidas – it’s probably made from low-quality materials”. The important point to understand is that Addidas’ Trademarked Phrase, IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING, is doing all of the selling. The trademark is the pitch.