We’ve all said things that deserve to be on a tee-shirt or — better yet — a billboard.
If this phrase or catchphrase is for your business, you’re probably interested in protecting it and leveraging it as a competitive advantage.
This leads most business owners to research “Can I patent a phrase?”.
Considering the U.S. offers protection to various types of artistic works, this is a valid question.
Let’s take a closer look at whether you can patent a phrase or catchphrase as well as the proper procedures you should take to protect your viral catchphrase.
Can You Patent a Phrase or Catchphrase?
In short, the answer is no. You are not able to get a patent on your viral catchphrase or phrase.
The U.S. patent is a grant of property rights for an invention.
This legal instrument prohibits anyone else from using, making, or selling your invention in the United States.
The patent is issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
However, the U.S. patent law doesn’t protect the originator of a phrase.
Instead, you may be able to protect your phrase by trademarking it with the USPTO.
What Is a Trademark?
A trademark can help make your slogan or phrase distinct from others.
When you trademark your phrase or slogan, you protect the words that represent your service or product.
Similar to a patent, trademarking your phrase will prevent someone else from using it for a service or product that may be mistaken for yours.
Because of this, a trademark is only enforceable in the business class where it has been registered.
And when you legally register your trademark, you can prevent other businesses from infringing upon it.
Common types of phrases that are eligible for trademark registration include:
Because phrases and slogans can represent tremendous value to your marketing and business, they are worthy of protection from a legal trademark.
Examples of successfully trademarked phrases are burned in the brains and hearts of American citizens include:
- American Express’ “Don’t leave home without it”
- Nike’s “Just Do It”
- Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?”
What’s the Difference Between a Copyright, Trademark, and Patent?
As we previously mentioned, patents protect new inventions as well as improvements to inventions that already exist.
A copyright is used to protect original writing, art, and music.
The trademark protects words that describe a unique service or a unique product.
Why Should I Trademark My Phrase or Slogan?
When you register your slogan or phrase with the USPTO, it can provide legal protection from use by other businesses.
A few key benefits of trademarking your phrase or slogan includes:
- Registered trademarks carry substantial weight legally. In a case of litigation, you don’t have to prove the validity of your trademark. Instead, your opposition will have to prove why your trademark should be invalid.
- In the event a business utilizes your catchphrase or slogan, you have the right to file a lawsuit. You can look to recover money to prevent them from using the phrase in the future as well as lost money.
- By trademarking a phrase, you’ll enjoy nationwide coverage. This prevents other businesses from claiming local rights to use your phrase.
How Can I Trademark a Phrase or Slogan?
Before you start the process of trademarking a slogan or phrase, make sure you understand the steps involved.
The end-to-end process can be challenging and has very strict deadlines.
Once you complete the trademark registration process, an examining attorney will review your application that is then sent out for public view.
All fees associated with the trademark process are not refundable — even if the office rejects your application.
Let’s take a closer look at the process involved with registering your catchphrase or slogan.
- Choose your catchphrase or slogan. The obvious first step is to select the phase you wish to trademark. You should consider the difficulty associated with defending your trademark. Make sure the slogan you choose is related to your product or service. But if your phrase is similar to another slogan in your service or products class, you should consider changing it.
- Is your phrase eligible for a trademark? To receive a trademark, you must have an original phrase. Once granted, it will protect your chosen phrase from another business in your class. You can read the full description on Trademark Basics from the USPTO
- Perform a search on the USPTO database. To do so, make sure you query the goods and services class for your business. In the event you find a similar phrase, you should consider working with a trademark attorney for guidance on how to proceed.
- Select how you would like to file. Here, you will need to inform the USPTO on whether your phrase is already being used in commerce or if it will be used in the future.
- If the phrase is already being used, you will need to file under “use in commerce.”
- On the other hand, if you are planning to use the phrase in the future, you would need to file under “intent to use.” With this type of filing, you are required to use the phase in a year. This filing also includes extra fees and forms.
- Complete the necessary forms. Next, you will need to access the online Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) and choose the appropriate forms. Make sure to write your catchphrase or slogan verbatim to how you plan on using it. You’ll also need to select the class of service or goods where the phrase will be trademarked.
- Pay Fees. The process of applying for a trademark isn’t free. You’ll need to pay multiple fees. I’s more economical to file electronically than it is to do so by paper. The amount of your fees will depend on the type of application.
- Check Your Status. Once you submit your application, you can always check on the status. Visit the USPTO online Trademark Status Document Retrieval System.
- Answer questions. After you have submitted your application, a USPTO examining attorney will ensure it meets all state laws and regulations. They will also ensure you have paid applicable fees. If they reject your application, you will receive an explanation letter. Make sure to properly respond to this letter within six months to move forward with the process. If you fail to do so, your process will be abandoned.
- Opening your phrase to the public. After all objections have been satisfied, the USPTO will publish your new slogan in the “Official Gazette.” This critical document offers the public the opportunity to review your trademark and offer opposition if they deem it necessary. Once your new slogan has been published, the public will have up to 30 days to file a complaint.
- Overcoming objections from the public. All objections from the public are reviewed by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The process is similar to going to court.
- Issue a Statement of Use (SOU). After overcoming all objections, the USPTO will issue you a notice of allowance. You can then utilize the slogan in your business and file an SOU. You will have a period of six months to issue your SOU from the time you are issued the notice of allowance.
- Getting SOU approval. The examining attorney will review your SOU to ensure it meets all requirements. In the event there are objections, the attorney will issue a letter. You will have six months to respond to the objections.
- Approval. Once all objections and procedures have been satisfied, the USPTO will register your trademark.
- Maintaining your trademark. Your trademark doesn’t have infinite use. You will need to file maintenance documents to keep it active. Without the proper filings, your trademark will be canceled. And if it’s canceled, you will need to restart the entire process.