Surprisingly the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Seattle Seahawk’s Marshawn Lynch’s trademark for the phrase “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” The athlete used that expression repeatedly during last year’s Super Bowl XLIX media day. Lynch now sells T-shirts with the saying. The approval of this trademark is somewhat surprising given that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will frequently deny registrations for T-shirt slogans on the grounds that the phrases are merely ornamental unlike a mark on a clothing label.
Lynch joins many applicants who try to trademark phrases that are popular or “trending” such as “Je suis Charlie, “Black Lives Matter”, “Boston Strong”, “Cecil the Lion” and “Occupy Wall Street.” Most of these attempts have been unsuccessful because they are slogans that are considered informational or expressing a political, social, religious view. This is inconsistent with the purpose of a trademark, a means to identify and distinguish a particular product or service. The USPTO also doesn’t want to wade into this because enforcement is problematic. Once a phrase has reached the national consciousness, many small manufacturers seize the opportunity to capitalize on it. There is a race to file the mark and generally no one company can claim exclusive ownership.
Generally these filings are a waste of time and money. Applications can take more than a year. By the time the application works its way through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the phrase is no longer trending and people have moved on. Also by then the market has been flooded and the manufacturers that have openly used the phrase on their products may have common-law rights to the use of the mark. Phrases have a short half-life and most manufacturers would do well to remember that when considering filing a trademark application.