"The under-funded and over-extended United States Patent and Trademark Office does not have the resources to adequately evaluate the burgeoning number of applications, and too many low-quality patents are being issued as a result"
In part one of this blog, we introduced the crazy and competitive world of trademarks and copyrights, many of which leave us scratching our head at their audacious or far-reaching nature. Maybe that's because just about anyone can file a trademark online through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site or by mail, which costs between $275 and $375. But having an attorney do it ensures it’s written up correctly and gives you the best chance of defending it against infringements and copycats in the future. Here is a good list of the wild and ridiculous patents, trademarks, and copyrights that were either denied or still pending:
Applied but denied:
The name Sarah Palin.
Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin applied to trademark her own name as a means to inhibit those who would try to make money off her likeness, a very common occurrence with celebrities and notable figures. However, Palin’s application was denied and sent back to her. The reason? She forgot to sign the paperwork. Oops!
In 2008, The New England Patriots were heading to the Super Bowl after an undefeated season to that point, a perfect 18-0. They were cocky enough to submit an application for a trademark on 19-0, ostensibly assuming they would win the Super Bowl AND no other team had rights to go 19-0 and talk about it. They lost twice, as their application was denied AND they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. The New York Post even clowned them by filing a trademark application on their behalf for “18-1.”
Back in 1989, Pat Riley, then coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, trademarked this term as his epic teams marched toward a third straight title. The trademark was approved even though the Lakers fell short of three titles in a row. Years later, when Michael Jordan’s Bulls won three in a row two different times, the term Three-peat was used by broadcasters, in magazines and newspapers, and on plenty of t-shirts and merchandise. Guess who got paid? You guessed it – Pat Riley.
Donald Trump’s “You’re fired!”
The real estate mogul and leading man on the TV show “The Apprentice” filed to trademark his signature phrase, “You’re fired.” But The Donald was denied, not because people are fired every day, but because his rendition sounded too much like “You’re Hired,” an educational board game already trademarked.
Jersey Shore’s Snooki tried to patent her own nickname but it was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, who ruled that a cartoon cat in a children’s book held the rights to “Snooki.”
Believe it or not, Twitter does not own the trademark for “Tweet.” The multi-billion dollar social media company did submit a trademark request but it was denied because of an earlier request by Twittad, a Twitter-based advertising service in 2008.
The noise of a Harley motorcycle engine.
The Harley Davidson motorcycle company actually tried to trademark the noise of their engine revving. But the “vroom vroom’ was denied, as they couldn’t prove it was significantly different than any other motorcycle engine.
A yellow smiley face.
In 2006, Walmart displayed the ultimate arrogance when they submitted trademark requests for their yellow smiley face logo, which means that no one in the world would be able to use a yellow smiley face without permission or royalty. Thankfully, the request was denied when the courts ruled it was public domain.
McDonald’s “Mc” on anything else.
McDonalds has a history of suing any other company who uses the “Mc” prefix in conjuction with food, as it did with McCoffee café in San Francisco and the Filipino fast food chain, MacJoy. But in 2009, they lost a trademark case against a Malaysian restaurant named “McCurry,” after Federal courts ruled that no one would reasonably confuse the two.
The name “Orange.”
Can you trademark a color? Syracuse University is trying just that, attempting to lock down the use of “Orange” as it pertains to sports teams. They applied in 2004 and 2006 with the outcome still pending, much to the chagrin of colleges in Tennessee and Florida who use the same term and color.
Subway, the popular sandwich chain, filed a trademark for the term “footlong.” They were so confident it was their intellectual property that they sent a cease-and-desist to two other eateries before they even were approved, a Coney Island hot dog shop and a general store in Iowa who were using the term. The general store fired back with a lawsuit and the whole matter is a big legal mess pending the outcome of their trademark.
Apple trademarked the term “app store,” even though the abbreviation refers to applications, not Apple. Amazon.com didn’t take kindly to that because they were using “App store” for actual apps with their Android phones so they went ahead and kept using it. Apple didn’t like that of course, and slammed them with a massive lawsuit.
“Best Coffee in America.”
Dunkin Donuts filed a patent for that accolade. Can you trademark a subjective opinion? We’ll find out, as it’s pending with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
“I’m just here so I don’t get fined.”
Seattle Seahawk malcontent Marshawn Lynch filed to copyright his signature phrase from the Super Bowl media week, though it’s yet to be approved.