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.