Sounds can function as trademarks. And in fact, at least a few dozen of them are registered trademarks with the USPTO. See below for some fun samples.
Sounds can be very powerful trademarks. Because of the way sound and memory interact.
A great example showing the power of sounds is the Lexus holiday commercials. A person hears “the Lexus tune” and immediately knows that a loved one has bought them a new Lexus automobile. Lexus has used the song for more than 10 years.
Amazingly, in my opinion, Lexus has not filed for registration for the tune as a trademark. They clearly spend a lot of money promoting it.
Songs have the ability to stick in our memory. And songs/tunes can convey a lot of emotion. These make them valuable tools in marketing and branding.
Sounds that occur in the normal course of operation of a product cannot be inherently distinctive, like the sound made by an alarm clock. Sounds that are solely the result of the operation of the goods – i.e. the Harley-Davidson roar of an engine – cannot be registered at all.
Here are some registered sound trademarks (click to play audio):
- The sound made by a toy Lightsaber (Description of Mark: The mark consists of the sound of an oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor sound.)
- The sound of the begining of Sportscenter on ESPN
- The NBC chimes
- The giggle of the Pilsbury doughboy
- Yahoo!’s yodel of “Yahoo!”
- The Law & Order “thump thump”
- The roar of the MGM lion
- The Looney Tunes theme song
- The Mattress Discounter’s jingle
- The Harlem Globetrotter’s “Sweet Georgia Brown”
- The Mister Softee ice cream truck jingle
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article about AT&T’s creation of a new sound for its commercials and logo. See here. AT&T invested a lot of money in the new sound. And they wisely filed to protect it. To play AT&T’s new sound mark, click here.
For more examples from the USPTO on sound trademarks, see http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ahrpa/opa/kids/kidsound.html