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Copyrighting a catch-phrase

Trademarks are all about an association.

If someone says Target, what do you think?

"[Y]ou immediately think of the retail store even though the meaning of the word has nothing to do with clothing," explains Los Angeles trademark attorney Elizabeth Swanson. "It's the relationship between the mark and the quality of the good that makes a successful trademark."

And that's why celebrities from Donald Trump to Jay-Z have tried to trademark their catch phrases (or, in the case of Jay-Z, the name of his daughter.)

"The main issue is whether any particular word, image or phrase is perceived by consumers to indicate source," says Barton Beebe, a professor of intellectual property law at New York University. "If Taylor Swift can show that when people encounter the phrase 'This Sick Beat' on a product, consumers think the product has been endorsed by Swift, then Swift can claim property rights in the phrase in commercial contexts."

One thing you might find surprising about the trademark process is that it takes several years for a trademark to go through.

Donald Trump, for example, applied for his "Make America Great Again" trademark in 2012 — days after the presidential election. That application was approved only in July 2015. That's the same month, incidentally, that you saw him bust out the "Make America Great Again" hat during a press conference in Laredo, Texas, at the Mexican border. Makes you wonder if he had those hats made up years ago, just waiting for the approval to go through.

Here are 10 celebrities, what they've tried to trademark — and whether or not they can legally sue you for saying or using that trademark.

By Danny Paez
Oct. 29, 2015

Photographer | CNBC