How to Copyright a Phrase

ByNemanja Vasiljevic
October 08,2021

Say you have a new company producing cellulite cream for arms. It’s generating buzz and getting great reviews from cosmetic sites and magazines. The only thing missing is a catchphrase that consumers immediately connect with the product. 

Finally, after many sleepless nights, it dawns on you. The perfect catchphrase: “Dimply arms begone!” You call your commercial agency to launch the campaign, and word of mouth will do the rest. But in order to grow your business, you need to protect your intellectual property. That said, if you’re trying to figure out how to copyright a phrase, you’re wasting your time. Phrases cannot be copyrighted; they need to be trademarked.

Coin a Phrase

Most of today’s products and creative works are protected by law. So if you’re in the process of opening an LLC, for instance, consider employing some of the top LLC services, which check whether the name you choose for your company is being used by anyone else.  

The next step is coining that perfect catchphrase. These short phrases are immediately distinctive and often live in the present. Many companies use similar catchphrases as a tool for brand recognition. They are easy to remember and serve as an effective advertising method. As such, these valuable taglines are protected under intellectual property laws, which brings us to the difference between trademark and copyright.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes one company's goods from its competitors. 

A service mark is similar, except it distinguishes the company’s service from others. For the sake of simplicity, they are often bundled together under trademark. 

Trademarks don’t expire. Similarly, trademark registration can also last forever as long as you file specific papers and pay the required fees. 

So, what does a copyright mean then? You use copyright to protect creative content that’s either been written down or recorded. However, copyright laws do not protect ideas, titles, slogans, or phrases. So don’t waste any more time trying to understand how to copyright a phrase. Simply trademark it. 

Here, it’s also important to make the slogan vs. tagline comparison. While slogans focus on the company or a particular product, taglines capture the spirit of the brand. 

For example, Joe McEnroe trademarked the famous phrase “You cannot be serious” after a heated disagreement with the umpire at Wimbledon in 1981. In 2002, he used the phrase as the title for his autobiography.

Meanwhile, Adidas International Marketing trademarked “Impossible is Nothing” for the company’s line of sports clothes and shoes.

Saving the Trademark

There are many ways to protect a trademark. If your company uses a trademark in commerce, it falls under the “common law” trademark. The great thing about it is it’s easy to obtain this form of trademark protection along with the ™ symbol. But you have to keep in mind that the “common law” trademark is only valid in a specific geographic location, usually local. Another drawback is that you have to prove you are the original owner of the trademark who regularly uses it. This may be a nightmare if a trademark dispute reaches the courts.

The other way of protecting a trademark is with trademark registrations through a state agency or, on a federal level, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. We recommend the latter. When it comes to the trademark vs. registered comparison, it’s really a no-brainer - the best thing is to have both.

There are many benefits to having USPTO protection. This way, your trademark is protected on a national level, with an ® symbol. Your trademark is stored in the USPTO list, so others may be made aware of it. But the most important benefit is that you have the ability to sue for possible infringement. Infringing on someone else's trademark is a serious issue, be it a phrase or a logo design. Just keep in mind you can’t copyright a logo either; you can only trademark it. Recently Fintech startup Current accused Facebook of stealing its logo for the new cryptocurrency project. In order to avoid these unpleasantries, make sure you use the best logo makers.

How To Trademark a Slogan or Phrase

Once you’ve decided to trademark your phrase with the USPTO, check the agency’s database to see if anyone else is using the same phrase. 

Then make sure you’re following the USPTO trademark rules (and catchphrase rules). Check if your phrase is different and unique enough from other trademarked phrases. Make sure you use your phrase in conjunction with the sale of goods or services. That way, you may trademark phrases for usage in commercial purposes. Next, do a trademark definition. Your trademark shouldn’t sound generic and explanatory or use familiar business or industry-specific terms.

An additional but beneficial step would be to contact the trademark attorney. That way, you can make sure the phrase you want to use can be trademarked and if it follows all USPTO trademark rules. 

Another important legal requirement for setting up a business involves hiring a registered agent. This can be either a company or an individual who will receive service of process if you’re ever part of a legal action. Here are some of the very best registered agent service options in 2021.

After you define a trademark, you’ll have to apply through the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Application System. The application fee is between $250 and $350, depending on the type of goods or services. These fees have to be paid individually for all types of goods and services, even when using the same phrase. This can become a costly affair for some businesses, especially since you can’t get a refund if your trademark application is refused. 

The process of validating your application may take six to eight months. The agency’s lawyers will contact you with their decision or request additional information. 

If your application ends up abandoned during this period, you may have to pay a $100 petition fee to proceed with the application process. Keep these costs in mind when you decide to trademark a phrase.

If your application is accepted, you’ll have to file Section 8 documents on the fifth and tenth year of using the trademark. In these renewal documents, you’ll specify if you’re using the trademark in commerce for the filled goods or services.

After your phrase is trademarked, keep an eye on the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System to see if anyone is using your trademark and then take appropriate legal action.

Is It Worth the Trouble?

Trademark slogans have become a powerful and proven ally in the advertising business. Application fees can be costly for small businesses trying to trademark a company slogan. But those that have the financial muscle can benefit a great deal from trademarking their intellectual property. Of course, you’ll never have to ask the question: how much does it cost to copyright a phrase as copyright laws don’t cover short phrases.

Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to copyright a phrase?

A phrase cannot be copyrighted. It has to be trademarked. This can cost between $250 and $350 for a single application fee. The cost is determined by the type of goods or services that you select on your trademark application. Businesses with several goods or services may have to pay multiple application fees.

How do I copyright or trademark a phrase?

If you’re trying to figure out how to trademark a phrase, the first thing you need to do is pick a distinct phase and check the USPTO database to make sure it isn’t being used by anyone else.  If it isn’t, you can file trademark protection with the federal agency. 

  • Check with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System if the quote is available.
  • File an application form with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Application System.
  • Follow up on the application process until you receive approval.
  • How do I copyright a quote?

    The short answer is, you can’t. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to copyright a phrase, it’s because it can’t be done. A phrase has to be trademarked through the USPTO database.

    How do I find out if a phrase is copyrighted?

    If someone already trademarked the quote, using it can result in an infringement lawsuit. If the quote belongs to the public domain, you can put it on a shirt for commercial purposes. To make sure the quote is usable, check with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System and consult an intellectual rights attorney.

    Can I put a quote on a shirt and sell it?

    If someone already trademarked the quote, using it can result in an infringement lawsuit. If the quote belongs to the public domain, you can put it on a shirt for commercial purposes. To make sure the quote is usable, check with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System and consult an intellectual rights attorney.

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    1 comment
    Mary Jo Holton
    9 months ago
    reply arrow icon
    I have a need for a trademark of a name/ phrase