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Most Unseemly Trade Marks In History

In 2019, the United States Supreme Court reversed a US law that prohibited people from trademarking anything deemed to be “immoral” or “scandalous,” ruling that the ban on “bad” words violated their constitution. Since then there has been a flood of “Not Suitable For Work” (NSFW) trade mark applications submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

However, the position of the Australian Trade Marks Office and the Australian Courts is that a trade mark will not be registered if it contains, or consists of, scandalous matter. Having said that, the Trade Marks Office and the Courts will consider each trade mark application on its own merits and will take into consideration community standards.

While we won’t go into detail on these, outlandish trade marks have existed since their inception. Here are a few notable examples of successful trade mark applications that tickled our funny bones.

Almost anything can be trade marked!

Ever wondered what the difference is between the game of ping-pong and table tennis? The former is trade marked by games company Parker Brothers in the United States, and the latter is a generic term for the same game.

Colours are some of the most questionable trade marks, yet organisations such as Boise State University in the USA have trade marked the blue turf of its iconic sports field. Also of the similar suit are “Reese’s orange”, “UPS brown”, “T-mobile magenta”, “Barbie pink” and the understated yet iconic “Post-It yellow”.

In 2013, Subway Restaurants came under fire in Australia when a social media post emerged of a footlong sandwich only measuring 11 inches. Subway’s response was that while “Subway Footlong” is a trade marked name, it acts in name only and does not guarantee the length of its products.

Other ostentatious trade marks include “Face” by Facebook (albeit only in reference to telecommunication services) and music industry power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z successfully trade marked the name of their first child Blue Ivy. Let’s not leave out Paris Hilton, who trade marked her catchphrase “That’s hot” and even successfully sued Hallmark for using the phrase without permission.

A few notable unseemly trade mark mentions…

  • The lighting display of the Eiffel Tower, meaning nighttime photos of the tower are protected while daytime photos are public domain
  • Usain Bolt’s name and “lightning bolt” gesture
  • Taylor Swift’s song lyrics, including “this sick beat”
  • The Law & Order “dun-dun” sound by NBC Universal Media
  • The phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble” by boxing and wrestling announcer Michael Buffer
  • The sound of Darth Vader’s breathing by Lucasfilm
  • The phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong” by Nintendo
  • The term “superhero” which is co-owned by DC and Marvel
  • The on “chime” on Apple devices
  • The term “realtor” by the USA National Association of Realtors
  • Zippo’s click sound, a sound so specific the company secured a trademark for it
  • The word “onesie” by Gerber Childrenswear Company

Got an unseemly trade mark? Or any other trade mark…

As you can see, there is almost no limit to what can be trade marked, so long as it is distinctive from those of competitors and is not a common word. If you have questions, we can help guide you through every step of the process. Contact the team at Kings Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys to discuss today.

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