You know that feeling when you say something so awesome or funny that you wish you could own it? Maybe you have a catchy phrase that you use all the time in your business, podcast, or social media. Or maybe you have a clever slogan that you think would look great on a t-shirt or a mug. If so, you might be wondering if you can make your catch phrase yours and stop others from using it without your permission.
A catch phrase is a word or expression that you say a lot and that people connect with you, your group, your idea, or your point of view. It can be a slogan or a trendy expression that usually doesn’t last long and is influenced by the media. It can also be a cool or funny phrase that you say for a specific situation and that makes you stand out. Catch phrases are everywhere online and offline.
But can you make your catch phrase yours and keep it for yourself? The answer is: it depends. Trademarking your catch phrase yours is not easy and it varies from country to country, but in general, there are some things that matter if you want to protect your catch phrase or not.
Who can trademark their catch phrase?
To make your catch phrase yours, you need to show that it helps people recognize your products or services and tell them apart from others. In other words, your catch phrase needs to work as a trademark. A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or thing that shows where your products or services come from and how they are different from others.
For example, if you have a podcast called “The Catch Phrase Show” and you use the catch phrase “So What’s the Catch?” as your tagline, you might be able to make it yours if you can show that it helps people recognize your podcast and makes it different from other podcasts. But if you just use the catch phrase randomly in your chats or posts, without any link to your products or services, you might not be able to make it yours.
Another thing that affects your ability to make your catch phrase yours is whether it is unique or common. A unique catch phrase is one that is original, creative, or unusual, and that does not describe what your products or services are like. A common catch phrase is one that is normal, ordinary, or descriptive, and that does not show where your products or services come from.
For example, if you have a clothing line called “Catchy” and you use the catch phrase “Just do it” as your slogan, you will not be able to make it yours because Nike already owns that. You likewise, would not be able to trademark “active wear” by itself, because it is common and does not make your clothing different from others. But if you use the catch phrase “Catch me if you can” as your slogan, you might be able to register it because it is unique and suggests a link to your brand name—assuming no one else already has it.
How can you trademark your catch phrase?
If you have a catch phrase that works as a trademark and is unique enough to show your products or services, you can trademark it by registering it with the right authority in your country. For example, in the United States, you can register your catch phrase with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In Canada, you can register your catch phrase with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). In the United Kingdom, you can register your catch phrase with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
Registering your catch phrase gives you some perks, such as:
The right to use your catch phrase for your products or services in the country where you registered it
The power to stop others from using your catch phrase or a similar one for their products or services in the country where you registered it
The option to sue others for copying or competing with you if they use your catch phrase or a similar one for their products or services in the country where you registered it
The chance to license or sell your catch phrase to others who want to use it for their products or services
But registering your catch phrase also comes with some duties, such as:
The need to pay fees for applying and keeping your registration
The need to use your catch phrase regularly and constantly for your products or services
The need to monitor and enforce your catch phrase rights
The limits of trademarking your catch phrase
Making your catch phrase yours is not a guarantee that no one else will ever use it or try to make it theirs. You still have to look after it and keep it safe. The main way of keeping your catch phrase safe is to take action against anyone who tries to use it or a similar one for their products or services. You can do this in different ways, such as:
Sending them a cease and desist letter/email. This is a letter/email that tells them to stop using your catch phrase or face legal consequences. It can also ask them to pay you money or destroy any products that have your catch phrase on them. This can sometimes scare them off or make them negotiate with you.
Opposing their trademark application. If they try to register your catch phrase or a similar one as a trademark, you can challenge their application and try to stop them from getting the trademark. You can do this by filing an opposition with the USPTO or the relevant authority in your country. You will need to show why their trademark is confusingly similar to yours or why they don’t have the right to use it.
Suing them for trademark infringement. If they keep using your catch phrase or a similar one for their products or services, you can sue them in court and ask for money, a stop order, or both. This can be expensive and stressful, and you might not win.
But taking action against someone else is not always easy or possible. It also depends on whether your products or services are related to theirs. For example, if someone uses your catch phrase for selling cars, and you use it for selling books, you might not have a strong case against them because there is no likelihood of confusion among consumers. But if someone uses your catch phrase for selling books, and you use it for selling books, you might have a stronger case against them because there is a likelihood of confusion among consumers.
Trademarking your catch phrase can be a great way to boost your brand and stop others from copying your creative expression. But not every catch phrase can be trademarked, and not every trademark can be enforced. You need to make sure that your catch phrase meets the rules of trademark law and that you register it with the USPTO or the right authority in your country. You also need to watch and protect your trademark rights against possible copycats.
Have additional questions? You can contact us today for a consultation.