10 Bizarre Trademark Claims And Disputes


The pop star who trademarked the lyric “this sick beat”

Since the release of her most recent album, 1989, pop icon Taylor Swift has attempted to register a handful of phrases in advance of her 1989 World Tour, which launches in Tokyo on May 5, 2015.

Some 37 applications have been filed on her behalf, presumably to thwart unofficial vendors from ripping off her brand with such merchandise as shirts, hats, bags, toys, and lanyards.

In addition to lines like “this sick beat,” found on her hit single “Shake It Off,” Swift’s recent requests also include relatively esoteric phrases like “Nice to meet you, where you been?” and “Party like it’s 1989.”

While Swift isn’t notoriously litigious, experts believe she is about to embark on “a very ambitious licensing program” that is less about protecting against exploitation and more about expanding a line of products.

Click below to check out the song that spawned a thousand– or, at least a couple – trademark applications:

(Source | Photo)


The entertainment company that put in a trademark application for exclusive rights to the term “SEAL Team 6”

On May 4, 2011, two days after the world learned of U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6’s daring mission into al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound, The Walt Disney Company filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in which the entertainment giant sought the exclusive right to use the term “SEAL Team 6” on items ranging from toys and games to snow globes and Christmas stockings.

The Navy fired back at the entertainment conglomerate with its own filings for trademarks on the phrases “SEAL Team” and “Navy SEALs,” on May 13, several days after Disney’s application. The Navy said in its filings those terms denote “membership in an organization of the Department of the Navy that develops and executes military missions involving special operations strategy, doctrine, and tactics.”

Soon after the Navy’s filing (and a good dose of ridicule from comics and other critics), Disney withdrew their application “out of deference to the Navy.” Navy officers privately expressed relief that the company had chosen to back out, saving the organization from a long trademark battle. (Source | Photo)


The companies that are attempting to trademark the “Je Suis Charlie” slogan after the Charlie Hebdo murders

The companies that are attempting to trademark the 'Je Suis Charlie' slogan after the Charlie Hebdo murders

In January 2015, two applications were filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for trademarking the phrase “Je Suis Charlie,” which was used worldwide to show solidarity withCharlie Hebdo‘s staff after the massacre at their offices in Paris in early January 2015.

One application is from a trust in California, who lists its purpose for seeking the trademark as “charitable” in nature. The other, from the Latin American Trading Group in Florida, seeks control of the phrase’s commercial use on a long list of products, including clothing, footwear, bags, luggage, and several types of dining ware.

Experts think neither entity will get their wish. Despite this, Steven Stanwyck, one of two people who filed the California-based application, believes he’ll be victorious because his trademark bid pertains to “respectful discourse platforms we hope to positively encourage.”

But what exactly are his motives? Stanwyck has already sent a cease-and-desist letter to Charlie Hebdo over use of the phrase “Je Suis Charlie.” So far, he has yet to hear from the French magazine. (Source | Photo)


The musician who was sued for infringing upon the copyright of a silent song

In 2002, there was a very public dispute between Mike Batt and the John Cage estate over who owned the copyright to silence.

Batt had included a minute of silence on an album by his classical crossover ensemble, The Planets, and credited it to Batt/Cage. And that’s exactly where his troubles began.

John Cage was a world-famous avant-garde composer known primarily for his 1952 composition, “4′33″, which consists of – you guessed it – four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. With the questionable credit on Batt’s minute of silence, an absurd dispute over royalties ensued, with the musician accused by the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) of plagiarizing Cage’s silence.

The case concluded with a widely reported six-figure settlement, with Batt handing over a rumored £100,000 cheque to Nicholas Riddle, managing director of Cage’s publishers. But is that what really happened? Batt now says no.

When Batt received a claim for royalties from the MCPS on behalf of Cage’s publisher, he admitted to registering the writing pseudonym Clint Cage with the PRS, and was therefore able to assert that the Batt/Cage credit just meant he had written this particular sixty seconds of silence himself.

Batt claims both parties agreed to disagree publicly in order to educate people about copyright. He donated £1,000 to the John Cage Trust, which supports young artists. Of the disagreement between the two musical entities, Batt has said, “There was no court case, no serious litigation. Just a lot of fun between us and lots of press coverage. But let’s get this straight: John’s silence was inferior to mine. My silence was digital, and his was analog. Also, mine was not played by an eight-piece band, and his was not played by a solo clarinet. I think my 1,000 quid was well spent – so long as it didn’t subsidize some avant-garde ****er to write more silence and call it art.” (Source | Photo)


The game that must not be named without express permission from the NFL

If you were grocery shopping before this year’s Super Bowl, you might have noticed in-store signs or displays advertising items for “the big game” or “game day.” Ever wonder why that is?

Well, the “Super Bowl” trademark is strictly enforced by the NFL. Radio hosts, restaurants, and mom and pop shops are all prohibited from using the term without the organization’s express permission.

“Like any brand, we work to protect our valuable intellectual property and the rights we extend to our partners,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

While violations are determined on a case by case basis, if a potential infringement is discovered, the league will notify the party involved. If nothing changes, then a cease-and-desist letter follows.

For the NFL, it’s all about maximizing revenue and protecting its sponsors. The league creates “official” beers, chips, sodas and other items, which can give a business a distinct advantage over its competitors. (Source | Photo)


The woman who filed a petition to trademark a dying man’s last words

In December 2014, Waukegan, Illinois resident Catherine Crump, 57, petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “I can’t breathe” for use on “hoodies and t-shirts for men, women, boys, girls, and infants.”

Yes, Crump has been using Eric Garner’s dying words – which are also a rallying cry against police brutality – for commercial purposes “at least as early as August.” That’s just a month after Garner was killed by an NYPD officer’s chokehold.

Crump does not know the Garner family and insists her aim is not to profit from the tragedy. (Source)


The librarian who battled a screen printing company for ownership of “Keep Austin Weird”

In 2000, librarian Red Wassenich called a local Austin, Texas radio station to tell them how much he liked their programming, and wanted to make a donation. “Whoever answered the phone said, ‘Why did you support the show?'” he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know. It helps keep Austin weird.'”

As soon as the phrases “keep Austin weird” left his mouth, he felt a jolt of inspiration. Wassenich unhappily watched as the tech boom changed his once-affordable hometown overnight and decided something needed to be done. So he and his wife, Karen Pavelka, printed “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers. Soon, the phrase began popping up around town, on everything from T-shirts to websites.

In 2002, a trademark dispute broke out over the rights to “Keep Austin Weird.” A local company, Outhouse Designs, began printing the phrase on T-shirts and hats wanted to make it a trademark. Wassenich filed a challenge with the Patent and Trademark Office.

The screen-printer prevailed over Wassenich’s legal challenges and what was intended as a statement of cultural intent ironically became just another commercial venture. (Source |Photo)


The pop star who attempted to claim Left Shark as intellectual property

Is Super Bowl 2015’s halftime breakout star and Katy Perry’s out of step backup dancer Left Shark property of the pop singer? Her lawyers seem to think so. Perry’s legal team issued a sharply worded cease-and-desist order to the 3D printing service Shapeways demanding it take down an image of Left Shark from its website.

The star’s legal team has also demanded Shapeways reveal how much money the shark’s 3D model has generated thus far. Shapeways reluctantly, but immediately, complied.

But all is not lost, Left Shark fans! Fernando Sosa, the designer behind the Left Shark model, has now posted it on Thingiverse, where models are free and can be 3D printed by the downloader.

NYU law professor Christopher Sprigman, who specializes in copyright issues, tweeted that he believes Left Shark is “intrinsically free” and not protected as art.

To see where it all began for Left Shark, check out the video below:


The heiress who sued a greeting card company for use of the phrase “that’s hot”

When Taylor Swift was still just a high school student with stars in her eyes, heiress Paris Hilton was already known for her business acumen. In 2007, she successfully trademarked her catchphrase “That’s hot.”

That same year, Hilton sued Hallmark over the use of her picture and catchphrase on a greeting card.

The card, with its “Paris’s First Day as a Waitress” caption, shows the star’s face plastered on a cartoon waitress figure as she serves a meal to a customer that says, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot.”
“What’s hot?” her customer asks.
“That’s hot,” Waitress Paris confirms.

While Hallmark defended the use of Hilton’s likeness and slogan, insisting the card falls under the category of parody (which is normally protected under fair-use law), the judge in the lawsuit wasn’t so convinced. Hilton and Hallmark settled, and the heiress walked away with an unspecified sum of money. (Source | Photo)


The medical testing company who went to battle with a media mogul over an iconic piece of film dialogue

While NeuroQuest may excel in providing early and accurate diagnostic tools for Alzheimer’s and ALS diseases, they do not appear to have a knack for slogans. When the company filed an application for one of the wordiest trademarks ever –”There’s no place like home to have your sleep study especially since we make house calls” – Ted Turner and his lawyers came calling.

The 1939 Wizard of Oz movie is based on a series of books written by L. Frank Baum, which were first published in 1900. The books are in the public domain, and everyone is free to exploit the characters, setting and plot, but any trademarks associated with the film are indeed alive and well. Turner owns several trademarks for the term “There’s no place like home,” and claims NeuroQuest’s request is intentionally trying to take advantage of the goodwill established by and associated with Turner’s marks. Turner wants the application of this “deceptive” mark denied.

While we don’t think anyone will confuse the two, NeuroQuest should probably get back to the drawing board anyway – their slogan doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. (Source | Photo)

10 Bizarre Trademark Claims And Disputes


One reply on “10 Bizarre Trademark Claims And Disputes”

Nice to finally hear that the Batt/Cage dispute was just a bit of fun/PR, it always sounded a bit stupid.

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