IP Sanity: Boston Strong Trademark Applications Denied

from the strength-in-numbers dept

With all of the trademark insanity we see here at Techdirt, it can occasionally seem like the USPTO doesn’t ever render a good decision on whether or not to approve a mark. With that in mind, I occasionally like to highlight when trademark law — one of the few IP laws that seems to get as much right as wrong — is done correctly. Take, for instance, the case of the apparently zillions of organizations that attempted to trademark “Boston Strong” in the wake of the bombing of the marathon last year.

The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams, was among many that had applied for the “Boston Strong” trademark. The USPTO, in a moment of uncommon clarity, denied it on the grounds that the phrase was both a poor representation of a brand and also had moved into the common lexicon surrounding the tragedy.

“It has resulted in a Facebook website; is used by the Boston Red Sox baseball club; appears on shoelace medallions; was the name of a concert in support of the marathon bombing victims; is the title of a planned movie about the marathon bombing; and appears emblazoned across the front of t-shirts provided by numerous different entities,” the decision said. “The use of the slogan is so widespread with respect to the marathon bombing as well as other uses, that its use has become ‘ubiquitous.’ The applied-for mark merely conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message; it does not function as a trademark or service mark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and/or services and to identify and distinguish them from others.”

While many of the companies in question were looking to apply the attempted trademark to some wonderful endeavors (Boston Beer Company, for instance, donated proceeds to support victims and their families), denying the mark doesn’t stop any of that, it simply stops anyone from locking up what has become a common term of support for the city and victims of the bombing. It actually would have been interesting, had the mark been approved, to see how the charitable organization LiveStrong, famous for its affiliation with horrible-person Lance Armstrong, would have responded. That, however, didn’t occur.

The larger point is that while we live in a world of permission culture and language-lock-ups via IP laws, we still see moments of clarity. There’s simply no way a “Boston Strong” trademark would have served any public interest, and to lock that phrase up, even for charitable purposes, would have been a poor decision. The USPTO got this one right.

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Companies: boston beer company

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Comments on “IP Sanity: Boston Strong Trademark Applications Denied”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Not quite

LiveStrong, famous for its affiliation with horrible-person Lance Armstrong

Armstrong is not a particularly nice person, in some ways. (In others, he’s quite gracious: I’ve met him.) He doped to win a bike race, which is cheating, but then again so did 43,282 other bike racers including a lot of the winners of major races like the Tour de France, so while I don’t approve, I can’t really see a reason to single him out: they (pretty much) all did it, they all lied about it, they all tried to cover it up — and a lot of them were successful in doing these things.

The difference is: he got caught. And because he’d been elevated to such a height, in part thanks to the really good work done by the LiveStrong organization, the public reaction was exacerbated. We Americans love to see our heroes get dragged through the dirt: the more we love them, the more we want to hate them. If he hadn’t been so prominent or if he’d been Romanian or if he’d finished 3rd, this would not have blown up the way it did.

But let’s have some perspective. He didn’t beat, rape, and kill helpless people like the NYPD. He didn’t torture people like the CIA. He didn’t set up mass surveillance of an entire city like the LAPD. He didn’t shoot up a school or a mall and or an office building. He didn’t do a lot of things that are far worse, things that really would merit calling the person(s) responsible for them “horrible”.

He’s flawed, he’s arrogant, he’s demanding, he’s a lot of things that are negative, but he’s not horrible. And he did a lot of good with LiveStrong — and they’re still doing good, in large part due to the huge effort that he put into the organization. So let’s save “horrible” for the people who deserve it.

Zonker says:

Re: Not quite

The difference is: he was an American who won the Tour de France seven times in a row and his competitors cried fowl, even though they doped themselves.

In fact, it was other dopers who were caught that were promised reduced penalties if they could implicate Lance as well. Turns out they were right about the doping, but why strip Lance of his titles if the next competitor was guilty of the same thing?

Armstrong case before doping admission.
Armstrong case revisited after admission.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Not quite

You seem to think I hate Lance Armstrong because he’s a doping piece of shit, like most riders in pro cycling. That’s not why I hate him, although he did indeed dope. I hate him because he has people like you fooled into thinking that LiveStrong had anything at all to do with Cancer research, when in fact their money went to raising “Cancer Awareness”, which can be more accurately described as “Building Lance Armstrong’s legacy and making him rich through his endorsement power”.

It was a con. A long con, that fooled many people, but it was a con. And then he hid behind having cancer and his stupid non-charity when he was found out. Cancer RESEARCH is what is needed, and LiveStrong donated a tiny fraction of their raised funds to research. They were used to raise awareness of cancer, which is one of the silliest goals possible. The following will serve to get you started so you can stop believing the lie Lance Armstrong fed you. He’s an asshole and the sooner he’s off this Earth, the better…


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