by Timothy Geigner

Filed Under:
boston, boston strong, trademark, uspto

boston beer company

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    justok (profile), Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 4:06pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous, Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 4:12pm

    I heard an advertisement on the radio for a concert featuring Boston and The Doobie Brothers. I thought, wouldn't it be funny if it was Boston and The Tsarnaev Brothers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    compgeek (profile), Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Not quite

    i could care less about sports, but i still agree 100%. all of them cheat at some point or another. only the ones who win get targeted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re: Not quite

    I couldn't care less.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Zonker, Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 5:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 23rd, 2014 @ 6:38pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Just-Another-Coward (profile), Apr 24th, 2014 @ 1:31am

    What does this have to do with "Boston "Strong"? Wasn't that just another false flag? Of course it was how else could an American win the race this year? Maybe he was doping...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Ninja (profile), Apr 24th, 2014 @ 3:36am

    Re: Re: Not quite

    He still has a general point there but yeah, one could classify Lance as "horrible" with what you exposed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 6:22am

    Re: Re: Not quite

    I agree completely. It was an apples to apples comparison, dopers vs. dopers. The only reason I care about doping in sports is it encourages kids to do it. But then again, I don't blame people for other's actions. If you dope, it is all on you, not some celebrity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Not quite


    Compgeek genuinely cares about sports.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 2:51pm

    Re: Re: Not quite

    Sweet niblets! T.G. and I actually agree on something!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Hungry, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 5:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not quite

    mmmmm... niblets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Trademark (profile), Apr 24th, 2014 @ 7:43pm

    Re: Not quite

    i only agreed some, but not all

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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