How to Trademark a Phrase
Defined as “a group of words used together in a fixed expression,” a phrase can be short or long. In addition to the ones we use every day, there are plenty of famous trademark examples for slogans we all heard at some point:
“I’m Lovin’ It”
“Just Do It.”
“Impossible Is Nothing.”
“Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.”
You probably recognize the companies these expressions belong to, even though only one of their names was mentioned directly. You might even be looking to protect a witty string of words yourself and need to know how to trademark a phrase properly. Luckily, this article will explain all the steps.
The Pros of Having a Good Slogan
If you want to develop a business, a catchphrase would be a great way to attract customers – provided it’s catchy enough. It can be a word, phrase, slogan, or even a design that sets a specific party and their products apart from others. Trademarking something means you gain legal protection for your brand’s recognizable features and that they can’t be used without your permission.
However, bear in mind that trademarking a phrase means following some strict procedures, and the process itself might take a few months. Still, if you do get approved, this can be an excellent long-term investment, as it can help your brand stand out while it grows.
A trademark is not the only way to protect your intellectual property, as there are also copyrights or patents. Here’s how they’re different:
- Patents are mostly reserved for inventions.
- Copyright takes care of art, music, and writing.
- Trademarks protect words or phrases.
How to Trademark a Slogan or Phrase?
Trademark registration can be a bit complicated, but it’s also rewarding, as it helps you make your business recognizable.
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)manages your trademark application, as well as the entire registration process. To be clear, you don’t have to trademark a slogan you came up with to use it for your product, but if somebody else does too, you won’t have any legal grounds to oppose that. On the other hand, if you’re using something that’s already been trademarked, the entity that protected it will very much be able to sue you. Trademarks do not have specific time frames like patents or copyrights, either.
How much does it cost to trademark a phrase, you ask? The price depends on the option you picked, but the cheapest application costs $250 per class of goods or services. These are the application steps:
Step 1: Check USPTO’s website to see if your phrase is available and make sure there are no existing similar phrases.
Step 2: Submit an online application to get your trademark certified. This step also includes a filing fee which can be paid via USPTO’s Financial Manager, using a credit card, electronic funds transfer, or a USPTO Deposit Account.
Step 3: Memorize your application identification number so that you can check up on your trademark application process later on.
Step 4: Wait for the response. This step might take a while, but once you receive a reply, write back to the USPTO; if you don’t respond within six months, it will close your application.
Step 5: Enjoy your trademark! But don’t forget to maintain it. Now that the phrase is 100% your property, you’ll need to check in with the USPTO to make a statement every five years to confirm that your trademark is still active.
Most people would like to know how to trademark a phrase for free, but if you want to get a real, certified trademark, this isn’t really possible. There are Common Law Trademark rights, but they don’t apply throughout the USA and are mostly used by companies focused on local markets.
You can also consult with a trademark attorney, who will give you some useful tips and guide you through the procedure if needed. This service adds a fee of $1,000 to $2,000 to your original costs, but it can make the whole process a lot easier for you.
Trademark – the Secondary Meaning
If a phrase becomes so popular that people associate it more with a specific product than its original meaning, it becomes a trademark in the secondary sense. This is nowhere near as common as official trademarking, and it’s difficult to achieve that status, but making that happen means you have an incredibly well-established brand.
For example, the name “Holiday Inn” has attained a second meaning, thanks to widespread use in reference to a specific hotel chain, not a variety of hotel services in general.
Registered Trademark Symbol
We already familiarized you with how to trademark a phrase. Once you do that, you can use the ® symbol after your slogan, company name, or logo. If you haven’t registered it yet, you can use TM for goods and SM for services, but this indicates you have adopted the trademark under the Common Law, meaning it won’t be just yours everywhere.
Celebrities and Their Failed Trademark Applications
Celebrities are often trying to find new ways to remain relevant in the public eye, and they sometimes do that by applying for a trademark, even if getting one doesn’t make much sense. There were some bizarre attempts, but, as you can imagine, most of them were denied.
To name a few, Taylor Swift unsuccessfully tried to trademark the names of her three cats (Benjamin Button, Meredith Grey, and Olivia Benson). Kim Kardashian made an even bolder move, trying to trademark the word ‘kimono,’ as that was the name of her clothing line. Last but not least, Donald Trump tried to trademark his catchphrase “You’re fired!” but it did not work, and soon he was the one who was fired.
This list could go on, showing that trademark law should not be taken lightly.
How much does it cost to trademark a phrase?
This filing fee starts from $250 per class. In case you wish to hire an attorney to help you, these costs tend to skyrocket.
How do you legally protect a phrase?
You can submit an application via USPTO’s website and register your phrase in their database. If you get approved, your trademark would be protected by law all across the USA.
Can you copyright a phrase or saying?
No, and let’s clarify what’s a patent vs. copyright vs. a trademark. A phrase can only be trademarked; copyright is used for music, art, writing, etc. On the other hand, patents protect inventions and stop others from trying to steal an original idea.
What are the three types of trademarks?
- General trademarks are usually common words, and they are the everyday descriptions of certain products.
- Suggestive trademarks do not always convey literal meaning but rather give you a hint about a product in question.
- Descriptive trademarks apply strictly to the merchandise, and they are usually non-registrable.
How long does a trademark last?
If you know how to trademark a phrase but don’t know how long it lasts, the great news is that it can last forever. Still, you have to renew it every five years to make sure it is still active, but as long as it’s actively used for commercial purposes, it’s yours.