Can a slogan be a trademark?

A trademark can be many things: a word, a symbol, a logo, a name, and even a slogan.  A trademark can really be anything that signifies the source of the product or service and that also distinguishes it from others.  If the slogan is merely informational or celebrates the product, it won’t qualify for federal trademark registration.  Some of the reasoning behind this is that the slogan doesn’t really function primarily as a source indicator, i.e., it doesn’t make you think of the product’s origin the way Nike might make you think of a shoe company that makes running shoes, sports clothes, etc.  The slogan functions less as a source indicator and more as a descriptor.

Think of any restaurant that claims it has “The Best Wings in the State” or “World Famous Ribs.”  None of those slogans will qualify for trademark protection, because they just trumpet the product, and really don’t distinguish one rack of ribs from the next.

The context of the slogan matters, too.  Slogans on clothing, for instance, can be difficult to present as proper trademark usage, because they often seem to convey a message rather than a source.  Graphic tees with clever phrases on the front likely won’t qualify for federal trademark protection because the message is predominantly based in fashion.

Slogans used with services seem to be even more troublesome.  “Use of a designation or slogan to convey advertising or promotional information, rather than to identify and indicate the source of the services, is not service mark use.”  Did you get that?  That is some of the guidance the Trademark Office provides with respect to service marks.  Also, when you choose a slogan as a trademark for your service, you have to be careful that the slogan doesn’t describe a product used in the service.  If you run a cleaning business, try not to pick a slogan that describes the mop.  If you have a bakery, a slogan referring to hot cross buns probably won’t pass muster.

Bottom line: slogans can be a tricky area of trademark law and are worth some definite consideration – and probably a talk with a lawyer – before investing much time and money in one.

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