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
Trademark approved: "Make America Great Again"
The slogan was coined by Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential race and has become common Republican rhetoric since. Trump, however, was the first to claim commercial rights over it. He applied for the trademark in 2012, days after the presidential election, and it was approved in July 2015. Since then, Trump has targeted those attempting to profit from the phrase, including CafePress, a web site that sells T-shirts and other customized items.
Technically, Trump's trademark only applies to "political action committee services," but CafePress has ceased selling items with the slogan. Trump has submitted another request, which would cover hats, T-shirts, bumper stickers and more, and that is still awaiting approval. Regardless, the warnings that were sent to CafePress seemed to have worked; items with the slogan are no longer available on the site.
Trademark application pending: "This sick beat," "Nice to meet you," "Where you been?" "Party like it's 1989"
From vinyl to music streaming, the way music is sold has changed vastly, so it is only natural for musicians to search for new ways to profit from their work. Taylor Swift sent in a trademark application for some of her song lyrics in October 2014, days before her most recent album, "1989," was released.
Swift's applications are still awaiting approval and will cover a wide variety of consumer goods ranging from guitar picks to jewelry boxes.
Trademark approved: "That's hot."
Paris Hilton submitted an application for her catch phrase in mid-2004 and it was approved in 2007. The socialite brought the phrase into popular culture through her reality-television show, "The Simple Life," and had it trademarked to sell alcohol and clothing products.
In 2007, Hilton sued Hallmark for using the expression and a picture of her on a greeting card. The suit was settled in the hotel heiress' favor in 2010.
Trademark approved: "50 Cent"
Curtis Jackson, better known by his stage name 50 Cent, has been a household name in the hip-hop scene for over a decade. He registered his pseudonym with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in July 2002, a year before his debut album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," hit the shelves and propelled him to fame. His trademark was approved in 2004, and since then, Jackson has registered his name to cover other products like his line of body spray.
In 2008, Jackson sued Taco Bell for using his name in an ad campaign without his consent. The fast-food chain lost the suit and paid Jackson an undisclosed amount in damages.
Trademark approved: "Tebowing"
Almost anything professional athletes do on the playing field has the potential to create a furor on the Internet, whether it is a signature celebration or a special entrance. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Tim Tebow, is known for publicly displaying his faith by dropping down on one knee and praying before matches, a ritual that has been dubbed "Tebowing."
XV Enterprises, Tebow's marketing and consulting firm, filed a request to trademark "Tebowing" in October 2011, after a Denver Broncos fan unsuccessfully attempted to register it under his name. The trademark was approved in April 2013, but was abandoned early in 2015 because Tebow failed to submit an extension request.
Trademark pending: "Blue Ivy Carter"
The Carters sent in a trademark application for their daughter's name in 2012, only days after her birth. The trademark is intended to cover a variety of skin-care and hair products and was filed under Beyoncé's company, BGK Trademark Holdings.
Although it has been an uphill battle, the claim was not denied. The next step requires them to send in a statement of use (SOU).
Trademark approved: "Let's get ready to rumble!"
The boxers are sitting at opposite corners of the ring, cameras are flashing and the audience is at the edge of their seats, waiting for the fight to begin. Before anyone throws a punch, Michael Buffer, dressed in a tuxedo, steps in the center of the arena and fills the crowd with excitement by uttering the five words he is so well known for: "Let's get ready to rumbleeeeeeee!"
Buffer originally requested to trademark his catch phrase in 1995 and it was accepted in 1998.
His net worth is estimated to be $120 million and he receives about $5 million per fight.
Trademark pending: "Linsanity"
In February 2012, Jeremy Lin played his first few games for the New York Knicks and left fans awestruck. The rookie played so insanely well that fans could only describe it in one word: "Linsanity!" Soon enough, the Internet was flooded with "Linsanity" gear, and within a few days two requests to trademark the term were submitted to the PTO. The original submissions came from Andrew Slayton, who had been selling "Linsanity" shirts before Lin's sudden success, and Michael Yenchin Chang, a California businessman.
Lin applied for a trademark in February 2012 and the first two were abandoned because neither Slayton nor Chang had permission to profit from the NBA player's name. Lin still has to submit a statement of use before the term becomes registered.
Trademark pending: "Stephen Hawking"
The cosmologist, theoretical physicist and best-selling author Stephen Hawking has submitted a trademark request for his name via the U.K.'s Intellectual Property Office. This comes in light of clothing items that have used Hawking's image in a joking manner, without his permission.
Hawking's application was intended to avert the misuse of his name on apposite products, charitable fundraising services and educational aims. The application awaits approval.
Trademark approved: "Fear the brow" and "Raise the brow"
Professional basketball player Anthony Davis has been playing in the NBA since 2012 and is known for his slam dunks and unibrow.
The New Orleans Pelicans player had to wait until after he joined the NBA in mid-2012 to submit a trademark request for the phrases because of an NCAA regulation. During his college years, a clothing store called The Blue Zone was the first to trademark "Fear the Brow," but it abandoned it after Davis' request was approved in 2014.