Awful, Awful People Keep Trying To Trademark COVID And Coronavirus

from the stop-it,-stop-it-now dept

Nothing like a pandemic to really make it clear what a terrible person you are, huh? Law360’s Bill Donahue (who is not a terrible person!) has cataloged attempts by terrible people to register trademarks related to the pandemic:

As of Wednesday, more than a dozen applications have been filed at the USPTO seeking to register trademarks involving “COVID” or “coronavirus.”

One filed by a New York company wants to register “Coronavirus Survival Guide” as a trademark for “magazines in the field of survival, protection, medicine and pandemics.” Another, filed by a California man, aims to register “We Cured COVID-19” as a mark for both apparel and “providing information in the field of medicine.”

As the article notes, this isn’t new behavior. Whenever there’s a big news story (can I at least get a pat on the back for not saying a “viral” news story?), profiteers and opportunists rush into to try to trademark stuff. Now, as the Law360 article notes, that’s not how trademark law works anyway:

For starters, U.S. trademark law doesn’t simply reward whoever is quickest to file a piece of paper with the government. Applicants must show that they have a bona fide intent to use the term on a particular set of goods and services ? something most “coronavirus” applicants are unlikely to do.

Remember, unlike patents or copyrights, trademarks are, effectively, a consumer protection tool, to make sure that if you’re buying a product that says it’s Coca-Cola, you know it’s actually Coca-Cola and not Bob’s Cola made to look like Coca-Cola. The whole idea is to accurately label something such that you know who is actually behind the product, and can trust the brand.

Indeed, that fact is part of the reason that no COVID or coronavirus trademarks should be allowed. Unless someone is stepping up to say that they created it and they are the sole maker of coronavirus, their entire claim is bullshit in the first place, and USPTO officials (working from home, hopefully) should quickly dump the applications in the trash.

But, in this world in which people are incorrectly taught that “intellectual property” is “the most important thing” America has, and the unfortunate lumping of trademarks in with copyrights and patents, it should be no surprise at all that people seek to opportunistically try to grab monopoly rights to profit off of something that is in the news.

In looking through the USPTO’s database, I actually found six different attempts to trademark variations on “I survived the Coronavirus.” Nearly all seem to be filed for by individuals who probably just don’t know enough to know that they’re just wasting everyone’s time. On the COVID-19 front, a company named, I kid you not” “The Edibles Club” has tried to trademark a COVID-19 logo for t-shirts — though, at the very least the application makes it clear that “no claim is made to the exclusive right to use “COVID 19″ apart from the mark as shown.” Still don’t think that will be effective in actually getting the trademark.

One of the “Coronavirus” trademark applications is filed by a company that, I kid you not, claims that is called “Coronavirus LLC” and they want to use a logo for music albums. From the look of the logo, I’m going to assume we’re talking some real heavy metal music here. At least that one was filed in early February:

The very first of the Coronavirus-related trademarks appears to have been filed on February 4th, by an enterprising, but small, magazine publisher, Centennial Media LLC, who wanted a trademark on “Coronavirus Survival Guide.” As far as I can tell, the company seems to do more trademark hoarding than actual magazine publishing, but perhaps they’re publishing them somewhere in secret, which would explain why I’m having trouble finding evidence of any of their actual magazines anywhere on the web despite a bunch of time just spent Googling…

Either way, it’s still not going to get the trademark its seeking here.

Some of the other applications are truly ridiculous — like the LLC trying to trademark “Covid-19 Vax” for any vaccine (no, sorry, not happening). Someone is trying to trademark “Please, Disinfect” with the explanation that they need the trademark “to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but with gentler tone.” I’m sure that will win over the PTO examiners. Another company is trying to set itself up as “Kovid Kare” to “help communities and individuals of all ages, educate, document, protect and recover from the impact of Coronaviruses, specifically COVID-19.” Yeah, okay. In fact, Kovid Kare has tried to trademark a bunch of related terms, like “Quaranteen,” “2020: The Bug War,” “I Survived a Real Pandemic,” and (I kid you not) “Please, Viruses.”

The other multi-filer is one Charles McDermott of Encinatas, California, who actually got a real trademark attorney, Louis C. Cullman of K&L Gates to file almost certainly doomed trademark applications for “I Survived Covid-19” and “Together We Survived Covid-19” that he wants to put on clothing… but also for “charitable fundraising.” The USPTO is unlikely to allow any of that.

So, look, please don’t file any more of these trademarks. It’s wasteful and bad and you should feel bad if you do.

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Comments on “Awful, Awful People Keep Trying To Trademark COVID And Coronavirus”

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52 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

To be fair…

The only one of these trademarks which look legitimate to me is the music label: From what I understand, there are a lot of music labels named after real words, such as "Maverick" and "Anthem", so trademark protection for a record label seems innocuous enough (as long as the context is confined to what they registered the trademark with).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: To be fair…

That’s a bit of a stretch. Was Anthrax (the band) cashing in on the deaths of innocents? How about all the other bands with similarly destructive names? Maybe they just want a name that is "dark".

By your logic above anyone that even mentions a life-threatening illness is somehow "cashing in".

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: To be fair…

"Was Anthrax (the band) cashing in on the deaths of innocents?"

Did Anthrax change their name in the middle of a world wide pandemic involving Anthrax?

"By your logic above anyone that even mentions a life-threatening illness is somehow "cashing in"."

Timing is key.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 To be fair…

Reading your/our thread is like a watching a game, a match. The phrase is like a ball made of words but full of emotion. Each reply is a reply. You’re sending an emotional ball back and forth using words. It can only be replied to using words, but again, it’s the inside that counts. It splatters all over the opponent and they must reply with words once again. Yes?

Endgame is ‘no reply and cease’, ‘concede and cease’. Don’t think they’re are any other choices. In concession, you’re still throwing water, but you both like it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

... really, you DON'T want to win that contest

If they put as much time into actually helping as they did trying to make a quick buck who knows what they could have accomplished, however by letting their greed get the better of them all they have shown is that for some people there is no such thing as ‘too low’.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
David says:

Nope.

Whenever there’s a big news story (can I at least get a pat on the back for not saying a "viral" news story?),

No. You blew it. The problem with bad jokes is that you cannot cash in on not telling them, because to make your claim, you have to tell them.

So the only possibility for cashing in on them is to actually tell them. If you realize that you are just an inexhaustible font of bad jokes and not caching in on them would really prejudice you, try getting a job at Fox News or as advisor to the president.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Re: Viral

I think the phrase ‘viral news’ , ‘viral video’, etc. will disappear. And I think David’s logic is right. So yea, bad joke better not said. but you said in a way that says to us, you seem normal and deserving of a response which may end up being a pleasurable experience for both of us.
So, yea, that was like a stinkbug up the emotional nostril.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

DB (profile) says:

It is a license to sue!

Threatening a bogus lawsuit is almost as effective as actually having a valid claim. It’s sometimes more effective if you have a history of causing innocent defendants lots of money.

In a slightly better world an attempt to file invalid trademarks would simply result in a presumption of invalidity for all future filing for both the law firm and the client.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Kovid Kare

Kovid Kare is mine. I recently went on disability (70%) pay after being diagnosed with complex PTSD and possibly bipolar (still figuring it out). Trying to support the family. The idea was to make those slogans into actual signs to help people in medical facilities, schools, hospitals. Signs like, ‘Please, Viruses are everywhere… [helpful actions]’. I wanted to make slogans on shirts for kids. Reading material for adults who survive the virus.

You know how different it is to recover by the compassionate than the unconcerned. Compassion and earnest understanding is crucial to our recovery. We are less anxious in recovery. We listen to those we trust. We go further for those who know our pain. We are willing to live again for those who understand us. I tried to make them into article themes, booklets on dealing with loss, slogans that assist; Invitations to life. Wings not walls. That’s what I was trying.

But with the mania gone, I am struggling again. I received my first official letter of rejection for my first trademark. I think I did them all wrong.

I was sitting here thinking; trying to find how Kovid Kare could help and make money. I looked up my company name and saw your editorial. Yes, it does look opportunistic, because it was opportunistic. But hopefully not greedy. Just broke. In debt, medical bills, three girls nearly all out of the house, but still costing me what I do not have.

Trying to save the house for the wife. Need a source of income when the PTSD or Bipolar inhibit working. Need to pay the mortgage. Second time out on disability in a year. So, yes, as one of the bad guys, I will change. Trademark death sentence had a point.

If you gang have any better idea of how I can provide helpful content, then I am all ears.
-f

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Kovid Kare

First of all, sorry to hear about the hardships, those aren’t the sort of problems I’d wish on anyone, and hopefully things will improve for you.

That said, while I can understand that desperate times can make for poor choices, trying to cash in on a pandemic is very much not the way to do things, not only because that’s a seriously scummy action but because it also has good odds of completely undermining the ‘compassion and earnest understanding’ that you believe is so important, as rather than people looking at your situation and thinking ‘those people have it rough, maybe they could use some help’ all they’re likely to see/think is ‘that person tried to make money from a pandemic, screw them’.

If you want to help doing so in a way that isn’t going to come across as opportunistic is probably your best bet, though that’s also likely not to make you money either, so keep that in mind. Things like pointing people to good sources for information as to what to do/not do, messages to encourage people and keep them hopefully rather than just thinking there’s nothing they can do, stuff like that.

As for the money side of things, while I’m afraid I don’t have any specific suggestions it might be worth looking to see if there’s any financial aid programs available for people/families in your position, as while the US tends to be rubbish at that sort of thing I’m sure they do exist, it just might take some digging to find them. Calling up the bank to see if they’d be willing to work with you given the circumstances might be worth a shot as well, though how well that would work is likely to depend on how good your bank is.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Kovid Kare

Hi there, f. I’m sorry for your troubles but I have some good news; not being able to trademark the word "Covid" or derivatives thereof doesn’t mean you can’t use the name, make the signs, shirts, or reading materials. You totally can — but so can everyone else.

You’ll have copyright on the reading materials as soon as theyr’e produced but to assert it you’ll have to register. I wouldn’t bother since the value is assigned by the buyers and if the market says no you’ve wasted your money.

Do all the things you want to do without resorting to trademarking, etc. and see how you get on. The more useful it is, the more valuable it will be. Actually, you could write about your situation, there seems to be a lot of mileage in it.

Good luck to you.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Kovid Kare

Hiya Wendy.
Well, that was what I was thinking. If I could get the names and phrases into use with a website that actually promoted their use, then by the time the trademarks came about… then maybe just maybe they’d be only to protect the misuse of the terms. Given my share of physical disabilities, the environmentally conditioning to cover up when sticks and stones come flying ‘is strong in this one’. Hoping the trademarks would help keep the inner core straight by having a stronger legal case.
So, with what you’re saying; you recommend, I actively cancel the trademarks submitted? If the idea is going nowhere, then I don’t want to block anyone else’s use of information.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Kovid Kare

"If you gang have any better idea of how I can provide helpful content, then I am all ears."

My condoleances, and best wishes.

Here’s a suggestion; Good and relevant information is hard to come by in a nation like the US where even POTUS seems to be doing his part in spreading disinformation.

You could print merch with solid CDC advice without any issue – that’s only beneficial.

The one thing which is really, awfully bad, is trying to mix IP law into the equation. I realize that in the US it’s now considered blasphemy to manufacture something and NOT try to lock it down under Intellectual Property law, but in this case you’d be better served avoiding such a thing or go with an open CC license (which might also prevent other unscrupulous actors from locking the information down).

Because applying a patent, copyright or trademark on CDC advice would, were the registration successful, actually prevent anyone else from trying to get the same message out. And the way things work in practice, no one will dare take anyone’s word that an open license has been issued without a legal team issuing a guarantee.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Re: Re: Kovid Kare

Guarantee? What’s guarantee? Does that guarantee have anything to do with the half-dozen $1500.00 trademark publications agreement letters I just received from WTP? Got a good shake of learning disabilities. Reading is very difficult.
This whole KOVIDKARE and trademarks just showed up in my head one night at the same time. It was like having dinner with my beloved wife, Salma Hayek and Scarlett Johansson. Yea, everything’s great, but where do i look? I’m sure not asking for the bread rolls in the middle of the table.

FDMorley (profile) says:

The Mob

..I feel like Dr. Frankenstein in front of a pitchfork parade asking for ideas. But of all the people in the world, you are just the ones whom I can ask for help. I need a better focus with Kovid Kare that does not dehumanize those impacted by the virus. Initially, I thought Kovid Kare would be great for kids, to protect and keep them aware. Educate them and provide direction.
. …Thought that would be a good focus… then the mania sent me whirling off into trademark land where i crumpled so spectacularly, and so offensively, you all noticed.
-f

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: The Mob

"Thought that would be a good focus… then the mania sent me whirling off into trademark land where i crumpled so spectacularly, and so offensively, you all noticed. "

It’s generally a great idea. Problem with a trademark is that in applying it, the sentence "Wash your hands for 20 seconds" can end up ammunition for any passing copyright troll, and even if not, will legally prevent anyone else from bearing the message if an overly casual US IP office accepts it.

Hence good intentions once again pave the way to hell. Lamentably so.

Best wishes for you and your family. Hope you get through the rocky times all right.

FDMorley (profile) says:

Good Points

All good points TOG. Will have to really think about what what niche I can fill and create a business plan. Thank you for the financial advice as well. I’m a developer by trade, so while being deeply in debt (like we all are), If i can stop the medical bills and start working again I have a way of climbing out. It just LOOKS real sucky from this point of view. We’ve all been there.

Bergman, what I did find out in my effort is you can’t trademark real medical terms, societal phrases, or events that are common knowledge to the general public. The liable for economic damage would be a motivation killer if that were the case.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Regarding Trademark as IP

Remember, unlike patents or copyrights, trademarks are, effectively, a consumer protection tool, to make sure that if you’re buying a product that says it’s Coca-Cola, you know it’s actually Coca-Cola and not Bob’s Cola made to look like Coca-Cola. The whole idea is to accurately label something such that you know who is actually behind the product, and can trust the brand.

This is why I don’t understand why trademarks get lumped in with patents and copyrights. The underlying purpose is completely different, the scope is completely different, the benefits are totally different, the limits are completely different (in particular, there’s no (or very few) statutory time limits for trademark protection, at least so long as the trademark remains in use), and so much more.

It’s especially baffling to me that both patents and trademarks get handled by the same office (the PTO) while copyright is in a completely different office, which makes no sense. Of the three kinds of IPs, patent and trademark have the least in common with each other. I mean, patents and copyrights both are limited in duration, require creativity and not too much else, are intended to encourage creativity and the promotion of useful arts and sciences, and aren’t limited by industry or market. Furthermore, both copyrights and trademarks involve protection of images and/or words (though copyright goes beyond that), last a very long time, and involve an actual use of the protected material at some point to acquire protection. Not only that, but while it is not unheard of for something to be protected in some way by both patent law and copyright law but not trademark law or by both copyright law and trademark law but not patent law, I don’t think it’s possible for something to be patented and trademarked in some way but not copyrighted. So really, why do patents and trademarks get handled by the same agency?

But yeah, this confusion is actually pretty common. Trademarks are meant to protect consumers first, owners second, and only from competitors trying to use the mark, yet they often are presented as something intended to protect the company from even consumers or critics, which is the exact opposite of what trademark is meant to do; some also try to use trademark law to go after alleged patent and/or copyright infringement (rather superfluous, really, at best) or even defamation, which is just ridiculous. And I’ve also heard of people trying to use or justify enforcement of patent and/or copyright law to prevent consumer confusion or protect consumers—the purpose of trademark law—or to enforce trademarks that are neither patented or copyrighted. Really, trademarks are confused with other laws extremely often. It’d be a lot better if we had patents and copyrights categorized separately from trademarks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Regarding Trademark as IP

Rather than worrying about what office manages which form of IP, how about we reduce copyrights and patents to 5-10 years and require the loser in all court cases involving any of the 3 forms of IP to pay the winner’s legal costs? While we’re at it let’s rewrite the rules about what patents, copyrights and trademarks cover, what each protects and how to determine whether two patents, works or marks meet the "substantially similar" bar so that they make clear, concise sense.

I don’t care who is in charge. Just make the rules clear and sensible.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Regarding Trademark as IP

"This is why I don’t understand why trademarks get lumped in with patents and copyrights."

Because by deliberate design. Trademark law isn’t really "IP" at all – not anymore than personal integrity is. It’s just protection of market identity. And in general trademark law makes sense more often than not.

That copyright and patents are mixed in with it is because neither of those actually possess much of a rational reason to exist, except for the "progress of science and the arts" argument no one has ever managed to validate.

Thus they ride the coattails of credibility and every time someone starts undercutting the pro-copyright/patent argument sure as hell the maximalists will drop trademark law conflation into the mix. Or currency counterfeiting, or whatever other legal mechanism with an actual rationale they can wedge in with a big hammer and some fast talk.

What we see the copyright maximalist trolls around here bringing to the forum is just copypasta of what lobbyists have pushed for decades.

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