What’s That Sound? Registering Sounds as Trademarks

Sounds can be powerful. A chime, a roar, a jingle. When done right, they stay with us. They become earworms, and when we hear them, they can evoke images and associations.

Sound trademarks are a type of non-traditional trademark, which do not consist of words, logos, or designs. Non-traditional trademarks are generally harder to register and protect than traditional trademarks, as they have to overcome several legal and practical challenges.

a cassette tape artistically unspooled on a yellow background

Sounds can be powerful. A chime, a roar, a jingle. When done right, they stay with us. They become earworms, and when we hear them, they can evoke images and associations.

Sound trademarks are a type of non-traditional trademark, which do not consist of words, logos, or designs. Non-traditional trademarks are generally harder to register and protect than traditional trademarks, as they have to overcome several legal and practical challenges.

One of the main challenges for registering a sound mark is providing an accurate description of the sound. This is because the description will essentially serve as the “drawing” of the sound. The written description should explain the sound in clear and concise terms, such as its duration, pitch, tone, and rhythm. A musical notation (like sheet music) and an audio file can also be submitted, but these will serve as specimens or evidence. The notation should accurately represent the notes, rests, and symbols of the sound; and the audio file needs to be a clear and complete recording that matches the description or notation. When submitting an audio file, it’s also important to avoid using the latest codecs, as they will likely not be compatible with the USPTO’s system.

Another challenge for registering a sound trademark is to prove that the sound is distinctive and capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings. This means that the sound must not be generic, descriptive, functional, or common in the relevant industry. For example, a sound for a car engine would likely be rejected as being functional and common. To prove distinctiveness, the applicant may have to provide evidence of use and recognition of the sound by consumers.

A third challenge for registering a sound is to show how it is used in commerce. This means that the sound must be used as a trademark and not as a mere background noise or incidental feature. A sound mark for a radio station must be used as an identifier of the station and not as part of its programming. To show use in commerce, the applicant may have to provide specimens of how the sound is used in connection with the goods or services, such as advertisements, packaging, labels, websites, etc.

Sound trademarks can be a powerful tool for creating brand awareness and loyalty among consumers. However, they also require careful planning and strategy to register and protect them. If you are interested in registering a sound trademark for your business, or would like more information, you can contact us.