You’ve been using a slogan in your business for a number of years. You haven’t taken any legal measures to protect any rights you might have in it, and you learn that somebody is trying to gain exclusive rights to that same slogan. Now you want to protect what you’ve been using for years.
Whatever rights you might have in your slogan depend on whether you’ve been using it as a brand name. A brand name can become extremely valuable. It inherently distinguishes a product from its competition. It can be a word or a symbol, term or combination thereof that’s used for purposes of identifying a product or service. It protects you as the owner of the mark from others who might offer a confusingly similar product or service.
Most slogans aren’t brand names though. They’re simply a series of words strung together to make an informational or ornamental statement like a “Baby on Board” sign. They’re not used as brand names, so they can’t be trademarked. To be protectable, they have to be either inherently distinctive or have developed such a great degree of secondary meaning that they immediately bring a specific product or service to the mind of the public. An example of a great degree of protectable secondary meaning would be “Finger Lickn’ Good” for KFC or “Just Do It” for Nike.
SOURCE OF THE PRODUCT REQUIREMENT
What all of this means is that if the primary meaning of the slogan is to identify the source of a product, you might receive trademark protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If the slogan is only visible on the product, and it isn’t identified as the source, you most likely won’t be permitted to register it. The same rules apply to service marks. Advertising or promotional information doesn’t constitute a service mark.
Although trademarking a slogan might appear to be a confusing legal issue, what controls is how the slogan is used and presented. If it’s on a t-shirt, it’s probably not protectable. If it’s on the label of that t-shirt, it may well be protectable. If you believe your slogan is protectable, seek the assistance of an experienced trademark lawyer and solidify the protection of your brand, contact Parsons & Goltry today at 480-991-3435.
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