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5 Funny, Sad, and Downright Weird Trademark Fails

funny trademark Jan 17, 2022

People like to file trademarks. It's just a fact of life. They like to claim their ideas as their own. In fact, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization, over 17 million trademarks applications were filed in 2020.


Trademarks protect names, logos, slogans, colours, sounds (jingles), shapes of goods or packaging (and a few other related things). They do not, however, protect anything beyond the visual or audible aspect of the trademarked thing. For example, the shape of the classic glass Coca-Cola bottle is protected by a trademark, but the contents of the bottle (the drink) is not. The company keeps the recipe as a well-guarded secret, but it isn't protected by any sort of legal registration.


BUT…not every trademark application is successful. While McDonald's has trademarked the "golden arches," they were unsuccessful in trademarking their "Mc" prefix, despite an endless supply of high-powered lawyers and a nearly bottomless budget.


Here are some other funny, sad, and downright weird things people have tried and failed to trademark:

1. Kit Kat's four-finger shape

Although other companies have been successful in registering food and drink shapes (see Coca-Cola example above), Nestle has repeated failed to get approval to register the Kit-Kat shape despite over a decade of attempts.

 2.  The smell of strawberries

The smell of strawberries. In 2005, a French company called Eden Sarl tried to trademark the smell of fresh strawberries. The reason? So the company could have exclusive usage of the smell in soap, face cream, stationery, leather, and clothing. The application was denied by the EU's trademark agency on the basis that strawberries can have many different scents depending on the variety and ripeness. The company appealed to a court to overturn the ruling, but they failed again.


3. The word "the"

The word "the". In the United States, The Ohio State University filed for a trademark in 2019 for exclusive rights to the word "the" on the basis that this prefix to its name is essential to its brand (if you hear anyone who attended the university speak its name, you'll notice the over-emphasised "the"). This, however, was not reason enough to grant them exclusive rights, and the application was promptly denied. The move was also a source of endless jibes on social media.


4. The sound of a motorcycle

Harley-Davidson were convinced the sound of a motorcycle was distinguishable enough to justify a trademark. They sunk a lot of time and money into the process for 6 years (from 1994 to 2000), before finally admitting defeat. At the time, only 23 of 730,000 registered trademarks in the USA were sounds, so it was probably a good choice.


5. The name "Kylie"

Reality TV personality, Kylie Jenner, attempted to trademark her first name, "Kylie" in 2015. She quickly found herself in a legal battle with Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue, who filed for opposition. The application was subsequently refused by the US patent and trademark authority. However, the legal battle between the Kylies was still ongoing in 2019 when Kylie Minogue release her own cosmetic line called "Kylie Cosmetics." Whose move is it now?



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