Catchphrases are everywhere. Big brands and famous celebrities use them to encourage name recall and sell everything from music to makeup sponges.

How are the likes of Nike (‘Just do it.’), Taylor Swift (“This sick beat.”), and Paris Hilton (“That’s hot!.”) able to do it?

They all went through the process of trademarking a phrase.

Benefits of Trademarking a Phrase

Apart from the obvious commercial advantages of trademarking a phrase, why should you do it?

When you register a phrase with the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USPTO), it gives you sole ownership. This protects it from being used by other businesses.

Another benefit of trademarking a phrase with the USPTO is the fact that it takes effect nationwide. This is a good thing because it prevents another business from claiming local rights to use the phrase.

Keep in mind that a registered trademark carries legal weight. If another business uses your phrase, you can file a lawsuit in federal court, even when that business is operating in a different state. You can sue for lost money, to prevent them from using the phrase now or at any point in the future

The burden of proof for invalidating your trademark phrased lies with the opposition.

When to Trademark a Phrase

Now, it’s not just big brands and famous celebrities who can trademark phrases. Ordinary people just like you and me can do it too. Provided that our reasons for doing so meet the criteria below.

First, you need to demonstrate an intent to use the phrase in commerce. What does this mean? The trademark phrased must be used to sell specific products and/or services. You can’t just trademark a phrase just because you like it and don’t want anyone else to use it.

Second, when filing your trademark application, you’re required to identify the types of products or services that you want to use your trademarked phrase on.

To be eligible for trademark protection, picking a phrase that describes those goods or services won’t be enough. You need to come up with one that’s unique but will relate well to whatever it is you plan to sell.

For example, Paris Hilton was granted trademarks to use “that’s hot” in connection with clothing, portable electronics, and alcoholic beverages. However, she may have had trouble trademarking the phrase for fresh coffee or portable heaters.

Finally, know that you aren’t allowed to trademark a phrase or word that’s deceptively similar to a phrase or word that’s already been trademarked for the same type of products or services that you intend.

The Process

Step 1: Choose an Original and Distinct Phrase

As mentioned earlier, it is critically important that your trademark is sufficiently distinct to the goods/services that you intend to list in your trademark application.

Say you wanted to trademark the phrase “Frozen Ice Cream” and you indeed plan to sell frozen yogurt or sorbets, the mark would not be accepted.

Note that descriptions/words for the goods/services listed in the application are not eligible for registration.

A more appropriate phrase that would be eligible for registration in the ice cream example may be something to the effect of, “The thing that makes you grin.”

Step 2: Conduct a Trademark Phrase Search

Before even attempting to trademark a phrase, you need to make sure that no one else has trademarked a similar phrase for the same type of products or services. Pull up your favorite browser and type in Add your phrase of choice into the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). The system checks for phrases that are identical or similar to the one you want to trademark.

Step 3: Fill Out the Trademark Phrase Application

There are two ways you can apply. You can do it online using the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Application System. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way by filling out the form and mail a paper application.

Either way, be ready to submit these requirements along with your application:

  • The owner of the mark and the name and address for correspondence
  • Type of registration — standard character format or in special character format. Standard character format protects your phrase no matter what color, font, or style you display it in. A special character format protects only a particular font or style.
  • The type of products or services your mark is used for.
  • Specify if filing based on use in commerce or intent to use in commerce. “Use in commerce” means you’re already using the mark now. If you plan to use it within the next few years, file based on “intent to use.”
  • A picture and specimen of your phrase. If you are registering your phrase as a special character mark, make sure to have a picture or drawing that shows what your phrase looks like. A specimen should also be provided for your phrase. The specimen is a picture of your phrase being used on your products or services. For goods, your specimen might be a product or package label. On the other hand, services might require a brochure or sign.

Step 4: Submit the application and Pay the Trademark Application Fee

Expect to pay USPTO charges of $225-$325 per class of goods or services registered electronically, and $375 per class of goods and services registered via paper application.

Know that the fee is non-refundable. You won’t get your money back if your trademark registration is denied.

Step 5: Respond Promptly to Office Actions or Other USPTO Correspondence

Your trademark application will be assigned to an examining attorney for review. If the attorney identifies problems with your application, you may receive an Office Action.

The Office Action will explain the problem and give you a deadline to resolve it. It’s important to respond within the deadline to avoid having your application denied.

Step 6: Wait for Your Trademark Registration to be Approved

It will take several months to a year for a trademark application to be approved. If there are problems or objections, the process may take longer. While you’re waiting, you can use the symbol “TM” or “SM” with your trademark or service mark.

Step 7: Maintain Your Trademark

Once your trademark is registered, you can then use the registered trademark symbol, ®. Remember, you will need to periodically file maintenance documents with the USPTO to keep your trademark in force.

How much does it cost to trademark a phrase?

If you have ever asked yourself how much does it cost to trademark a phrase, according to the current fee schedule on the USPTO, trademark registration fees cost $275 per mark per class. If you need an attorney’s assistance, the cost averages around $1,000 to $2,000.

Can you copyright a phrase or saying?

Names, titles, short phrases, slogans and sayings cannot be protected with the United States Copyright Office. Copyright protection only extends to original artistic works fixed in a tangible medium such as literature, music and motion pictures.

Can you make money by trademarking a phrase?

Trademarks can be used to make you more money with minimal effort. Because they don’t cost you anything to create and can be turned into a moneymaking machine with very little investment. Most of us have thought of a catchy name, slogan or phrase but did not know how to monetize it and use it to make money.

Is it worth it to trademark a phrase?

Is it Worth it to Trademark a Phrase? If you are using a catch phrase, tag line, or sales line with your goods or services, then yes, it is almost always worth it to trademark that phrase if it is available.

How long does a trademark last?

How long does a trademark last in the US? In the United States, a federal trademark can potentially last forever, but it has to be renewed every ten years. If the mark is still being used between the 5th and the 6th year after it was registered, then the registration can be renewed.

Can you trademark phrases?

Common words and phrases can be trademarked if the person or company seeking the trademark can demonstrate that the phrase has acquired a distinctive secondary meaning apart from its original meaning. That secondary meaning must be one that identifies the phrase with a particular good or service.

Can you trademark a phrase on a T-shirt?

If your Tshirt design has symbols, words, or other marks that uniquely distinguish it from other Tshirts on the market you can obtain a trademark to protect your design from others who might wish to capitalize on your intellectual property.

What Cannot be registered as trademark?

Can you trademark a slogan for a shirt?

Descriptive trademarks cannot be registered. Marks that have become customary in the current language. For example, a consumer associates a restaurant with a chef. Apart from this marks that are deceptive, hurt religious sentiments, are obscene or describe the shape of the good cannot be registered.

What are the 3 types of trademarks?

Because a slogan or design silk-screened onto a T-shirt is not a trademark. A trademark is any word, phrase, design or device that identifies the source of the goods identified by the mark. Don’t even attempt to register the trademark for a slogan or design that simply appears across the chest or back of tee-shirt.

Can I copy slogan?

These slogans, symbols, and designs are collectively known as a “mark,” either a trademark (for products), a service mark (for service-based businesses), or a trade dress (distinctive packaging, for example). The rules for each of these types vary slightly, but generally adhere to a few basic principles.

Is it illegal to put a logo on a shirt?

Typically, a slogan cannot be protected under copyright law as copyright does not protect short phrases. A short phrase can be protected in conjunction with an illustration or it may be protected in some cases, if it is taken from a larger well-known work, such as taking a line from a movie.

Can I put my logo on a Nike shirt?

Any image or graphic that is not listed as free for commercial use (i.e. images you find on Google images). While it may seem like no one will notice, it is a violation unless you the original author has clearly stated it is free for commercial usage.

Can I put a picture of a celebrity on a shirt and sell it?

No, you may not lawfully affix your company logo to a tee shirt that’s already branded by Nike or another sports clothing company and then sell that shirt. That’s trademark infringement.

Can I put a picture on a shirt and sell it?

It’s generally not permissible to print celebrity images on merchandise without authorization to do so. Business owners who use celebrity images on T-shirts without permission are potentially setting themselves up for a legal battle that could lead to a big payout to the celebrities involved.

Can I use an image on a shirt?

No, you can not as its copyright. The images that you come across belong to someone and therefore you put yourself in the risk of breaking the rules and getting sued. Some images might be free to use but then again you can never be 100% sure. Especially when you want to use them on t-shirts and sell.

Can you put an image on a shirt?

Many symbols that an artist might like to reproduce on a t-shirt have fallen into the category of known as the “public domain.” Yes, all it takes is to use a public domain symbol or image in a new, completely original work and the new image, which includes the public domain symbol, is copyrightable.

Is it illegal to put someone’s face on a shirt?

You may have a beautiful piece of artwork or a photo you want to display on a t-shirt, but you are stuck at the question of “how do you get the picture on a shirt?” Thanks to inkjet or laser transfer paper, you can print almost any image to your t-shirt, sweatshirt or any blank apparel.