trademark cases

trademark cases

Some of the trademark cases filed over the years have been successful. Some have not. And some are just plain bizarre. Here are a few of the most outrageous ones we’ve seen …

The Rock Band KISS Tried to Trademark … What, Exactly?

Last month, Gene Simmons of the seminal group KISS tried to trademark a hand gesture beloved by rock fans around the world: the devil horns gesture. He claims that he first used the gesture – with the thumb out – in 1974. Unfortunately for Mr. Simmons, the rock n roll hand signal was originally seen earlier than that. John Lennon uses it on the cover of a “Yellow Submarine” single. Another rocker, Ronnie James Dio, is actually the one most often credited with originating the gesture. He says he learned it from his Italian grandmother. She didn’t use it to express approval at a particularly righteous piece of music, however. She used it to protect herself from the evil eye.

Five More Bizarre Trademark Cases

Gene Simmons isn’t the first person to gamble on a trademark idea. Take a look at these five valiant efforts:

1. The Patriots’ Gamble: A Bad Idea, or Just Bad Timing?

One interesting example of hubris involves the New England Patriots. During the “perfect season” of 2007-2008, they attempted to trademark “19-0.” Unfortunately, they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, just a few weeks later.

2. You Tweet, I Tweet, We All Tweet. But We Don’t Pay Twitter for the Privilege.

Now, this one makes a little more sense. When you think of Twitter, you think about “tweeting,” right? Before Twitter could trademark the term, however, a third-party developer jumped in. In 2008 an advertising service, Twittad, trademarked the phrase “Let Your Ad Meet Tweets.” Twitter was locked out.

3. That Yellow Smiley Face Existed Way Before Walmart.

In fact, the ubiquitous smiley face that encourages us to “have a nice day” has been around since the 1970s. But once Walmart attached the image to signs advertising low prices, the chain wanted a piece of the action. Unfortunately, since the image is public domain, it’s trademark-proof.

4. Harley Davidson: An Engine Purr Like No Other?  

Yes, you read that correctly. Harley Davidson attempted to trademark the sound of a revving motorcycle engine. Sounds have been trademarked before, notably NBC’s recognizable three tones, but this one was a stretch, even for the beloved motorcycle company. They simply couldn’t convince anyone that the grumbly purr of their motorcycle engine was unique. In 2000, they finally dropped the suit.

5. One Petition President Trump Couldn’t Win

Back when the former real estate mogul and current POTUS was a reality television star, he attempted to trademark the phrase “You’re Fired.” It didn’t work, apparently because the phrase was too similar to an educational board game called “You’re Hired.” Luckily for Mr. Trump, his phrase lingers in the public’s imagination anyway, especially now that he’s reached the highest office in the country.

Count on Zachary Hiller to Give you the Real Run-Down on Trademark Law.

As you can see from the examples above, simply loving a turn of phrase or a unique gesture doesn’t mean you have the right to own it. After all, if we all owned trademarked phrases, we’d be little more than slogan-spouting characters in television sitcoms. We’d lose a little bit of the freshness and uniqueness of human expression.

If you do have a slogan you’d like to use as a hallmark of your business or brand, and have questions about trademarking it, let us know! We have extensive experience in obtaining trademarks for our clients, and we can help you avoid embarrassing situations like the ones above.

Leave a reply