Some years ago, President Donald Trump attempted trademarking “You’re fired”, the catchphrase he used to evict contestants from his television game show, The Apprentice.
Fashion outlet, Chanel also attempted trademarking “jersey” while Disney tried trademarking “SEAL Team 6”, two days after the US Navy SEAL Team 6 killed Bin Laden in Pakistan.
None of them was granted trademarks for the phrases.
Nevertheless, for all these people and businesses that failed at trademarking common words and catchphrases, there are other people and businesses that succeeded at trademarking theirs.
Their trademark rights do not necessarily bar us from using the words in our everyday speech but they could become a problem when we use them for commercial purposes.
Trademarked by: Facebook
Facebook has a trademark on its name, Facebook, which is normal.
What is not normal is that it has trademarks on other words like face, book, home, shout, gram, lark, parse, atlas, sierra, slumber and boomerang. It also has trademarks on names like Reyes, Hudson, Ludwig, Valencia, Crescent Bay and surprisingly, FB, F8 and 1977.
This does not mean that if you are Reyes Hudson, you live in Valencia, was born in 1977, have a face and a F8 button on your keyboard, you are owned by Facebook. No!
It means other businesses especially those with interest in the social media space might be sued by Facebook if they ever include its trademarks in their name.
Facebook has gone after sites like Lamebook and Teachbook for using “book” in their names.
Trademarked by: Specsavers
United Kingdom medical eyeglasses maker, Specsavers, owns a trademark on the common English verb “should’ve”, which it uses it as part of its “should’ve gone to Specsavers” catchphrase in its adverts.
That is shocking since “should’ve” is an English verb, a contraction of “should have”.
With “should’ve” now a registered trademark in the UK, Specsavers can clamp down on other opticians, eye glasses vendors and even hearing aid vendors that use “should’ve” in their adverts.
Then, Specsavers is not alone. Denmark-based lager maker, Carlsberg, owns a trademark on another common English word “probably”, which it uses in its advert catchphrase “probably the best lager in the world”.
Trademarked by: Twentieth Century Fox
In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson shouts d’oh the moment he realizes he has done something foolish.
Neither Homer Simpson nor Twentieth Century Fox that owns the right to The Simpsons invented d’oh. They only popularized it.
Yet, for some reasons, Twentieth Century Fox thinks it owns d’oh and even has a trademark on it.
D’oh has been used in its current meaning since the 1950’s even though it was only added to the English dictionary few years ago.
The Oxford dictionary defines it as an exclamation used to express “frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish”, the exact scenario during which Homer uses it.
Trademarked by: Sky Broadcasting Group
Circumventing trademark laws involving businesses like Apple, Intel and Sky, that use English words as their business names could be sometimes tricky since these businesses can — and do — sue other businesses for using related names.
Microsoft found itself in such situation when the British-based Sky Broadcasting Group, which has a trademark on the word “sky”, sued it for naming its cloud storage service SkyDrive.
The litigation ended with Microsoft changing SkyDrive to OneDrive but Sky Broadcasting Group did not stop there.
It also stopped Microsoft from trademarking the name of its live calling and chatting service, Skype, in the European Union because the name contained the word “sky”.
In delivering judgment regarding the litigation, judges at the European Union court that oversaw the case agreed that Skype infringed on Sky’s trademark because Skype’s logo resembled a cloud, which would make users lay emphasis on the sky in Skype since clouds are found in the sky.
This decision has left Skype’s name vulnerable in the European Union where copycats might decide to name their product after it.
It has also left Skype vulnerable to Sky Broadcasting Group, which could force Microsoft to pay licensing fees to continue calling Skype, Skype.
Another business that found itself at Sky’s receiving end is Livescribe, which was forced to change the name of its smart pen from Sky Wifi to Livescribe Wifi.
6 Let’s Roll
Trademarked by: The Todd Beamer Foundation
United Airlines flight 93 was one of the four airplanes that were hijacked on September 11, 2001.
On board the flight was businessman, Todd Beamer, who said “let’s roll” to a telephone operator before he and other passengers attempted to forcefully seize control of the airplane from the terrorists.
The airplane never got to wherever the terrorists were flying it to and crashed into a field, killing all crew, passengers and hijackers.
The catchphrase immediately became a constant reminder of the 9/11 hijackings. President George Bush used it in his speeches and the United States Air Force wrote it on the nose of some of its airplanes.
More than twelve businesses also applied to trademark it for use on mugs, clothes, bumper stickers and everything in between.
The Todd Beamer foundation, which was set up by Todd’s widow, Lisa, to help children who lost their parents on flight 93, joined the fracas when it also applied for a trademark.
The foundation won the rights to the catchphrase, which it used on its merchandise. It also licensed it to the Florida State football team for use it on its merchandise in exchange for some of its profits. Lisa also wrote a book using the catchphrase as its title.
5 I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up
Trademarked by: LifeCall but now owned by LifeAlert
The humorous catchphrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” was first used to advertise a medical alert product sold by LifeCall in 1989.
The product was targeted at the elderly and allowed them call a dispatcher (without the need for a telephone) in case of emergencies.
In the advertisement, an elderly woman falls on the ground while alone in her apartment.
She realizes she cannot get up and quickly uses the device to call for help saying “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.
The advert was humorous even though it was not supposed to be, and along with its catchphrase, shot LifeCall into the limelight.
LifeCall trademarked the catchphrase in 1992 but lost it to its competitor, LifeAlert, in 2007.
Before then, in 2002, LifeAlert had registered a similar catchphrase “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”.
4 That’s Hot
Trademarked by: Paris Hilton
Do not refer to anything that’s hot with the phrase “that’s hot”. If you do, make sure Paris Hilton does not find out because she has a trademark on it.
Greeting card maker, Hallmark Cards found out the hard way when it made a greeting card titled Paris’s First Day as a Waitress which featured a cartoonish image of Paris Hilton followed by the catchphrase “that’s hot”.
On the card, Paris Hitlon acts as a waitress telling a customer (in a conversation bubble) not to touch his food because it was hot.
When the customers asks what was hot, she replies “that’s hot”.
Paris Hilton did not think the greeting card was hot and sued Hallmark Cards for using a cartoonish image of her along with her trademarked catchphrase.
In its defense, Hallmark said it was merely humorously parodying the celebrity.
Paris Hilton later dropped the charges after both parties reached an undisclosed agreement. Apparently, the scene and the corresponding catchphrase was been copied from her reality show, The Simple Life.
3 Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
Trademarked by: Michael Buffer
“Let’s get ready to rumble” is a catchphrase exclusively used by commentator and announcer, Michael Buffer.
Buffer, who makes up to $30,000 for ten to fifteen minutes announcements, started using the phrase while commenting on boxing matches before he trademarked it to stop other commentators from using it.
Today, he licenses it to video games, movies, and toy makers, and has made over $150 million in three years alone.
Buffer comes hard on anyone who uses his phrase and has been involved in over a hundred lawsuits against several movie makers including big guns like Sony and New Line Cinema for using it in their movies.
He has never lost any of these lawsuits, which always ends with him receiving handsome paychecks of between four and six figures.
This does not mean we cannot say the catchphrase. Buffer only trademarked it for use in sports, movies, music, video games and clothing.
So someone using it outside these classes might be free of litigation. However, with the complicity surrounding trademark laws, it is not necessarily so.
Trademarked by: Rachael Zoe
Copyright laws can sometimes be weird. At least, as artist, Christopher Sauvé, found out.
Sauvé had designed some shirts with images of a eye, skull and bananas, for sale until he was informed that “bananas” and “I die” were registered trademarks of celebrity designer, Rachel Zoe.
Rachel Zoe might argue that she invented “I die” but she cannot argue that she invented “bananas” because we know “bananas” has been used since 1935.
We do not know what other catchphrase Zoe has trademarked but we know that apart from “bananas” and “I die”, she is known to use catchphrases like “hero dress”, “witch vibe” and “you are shutting it down”.
1 I’m Just Here so I Won’t get Fined
Trademarked by: Marshawn Lynch
American National Football league player, Marshawn Lynch, does not like being interviewed by the media.
He avoids interviews (even when the NFL threatened to fine him) but was forced to attend one just before his then-team, the Seattle Seahawks, faced the New England patriots in the National Football League finals (the Super Bowl) of January 2015.
Lynch attended the interview with a timer to make sure he did not spend more than the required five minutes and answered all questions with “I’m just here so I won’t get fired”.
The interview garnered heavy media attention and threw the catchphrase into public consciousness.
Lynch trademarked the catchphrase after his team lost to the New England Patriots and sold a special line of clothes bearing it.
Besides “I’m just here so I won’t get fired”, Lynch has answered other serial interview questions with words and phrases like “yeah”, “nope”, “maybe”, “I appreciate it”, “I’m thankful”, “thank you for asking” and “you know why I’m here”.