Top Trademark Trends℠ of 2014

Once again, trademarks and pop culture collided frequently in 2014. For example, more than 50 “JOHNNY ____” applications were filed this year as quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns including JOHNNY MAN’Z ALE, JOHNNY CLEVELAND, JOHNNY HOCKEY, JOHNNY PIGSKIN, and JOHNNY BENCHWARMER. Another football trademark story made big news as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) ruled in a case to cancel the Redskins trademark registrations.  Other big news stories, like the ebola outbreak, also were reflected the trademark filings. Another remarkable trademark story from 2014 was the Supreme Court, for the first time in several years, hearing a trademark case (B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc.). The case involves the differences in proceedings before the USPTO’s trademark appeal board and the Federal courts, and the Court will likely rule on it in the spring of 2015. Here is a summary of the year’s major trademark related developments:

Washington, DC Professional Football Team Trademark. In June, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board granted a request filed by several Native Americans to cancel those trademarks that feature the term “Redskins.” However, the decision is now on appeal and the ongoing dispute, which has lasted for over a decade, continues. Following the decision, many other applicants filed trademark applications for potential team names, such as WASHINGTON AMERICANS, WASHINGTON NATIVES, WASHINGTON FEDSKINS, WASHINGTON WARRIORS.

Popular Terms: Selfie, Drone, Weed, Vape, and more. Once again, the most popular words and phenomena in pop culture made their way into many trademark filings. The 2014 word of the year, according to Oxford English Dictionary, is “Vape.”  And business owners certainly agree as more than 300 applications were filed at the USPTO featuring the word VAPE. Other popular trademark terms in 2014 included SELFIE (140+ applications), DRONE(100+ applications), and WEED (150+ applications). More than 100 filings in 2014 contain the “#” hashtag symbol. Online and environmental branding trends from the last few years contained in 2014 as SOCIAL remained popular (400+ applications), along with CLOUD (700+ applications), while more than 1,000 applications were filed featuring GREEN.

Logo Trends. As even more business and advertising moves online and via mobile devices, logos are trending to simpler smaller designs, which make them faster to load and easier to see on mobile screens. Terrific logo redesigns from popular online businesses include those from FOURSQUARE , PayPal, and AirBnB.

    PayPal Logo    

Ebola. The spread of ebola was certainly a big story in 2014. At the USPTO, there were several applications filed for ebola related treatments and products including ZMAPP (Pharmaceutical preparations for treatment of Ebola virus infections), EBOLAHOL (antiviral disinfectant products for Ebola), EBOLAWAY (Antibacterial and antiviral sprays and wipes for eliminating bacteria and virii), and EBOLA OUTBREAK MAP.

Controversial Trademark Filings. The ALS Association rode a wave of viral social media activity last summer to raise more than $100 million dollars. Most of the activity was the result of the “ice bucket challenge.” The Association made quite a stir later in the summer when it applied to register four trademarks featuring the phrase, including ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE and #ICEBUCKETCHALLENGE. However, following a rapid backlash questioning the charitable intent and legality of claiming sole ownership and control of the phrase, the Association withdrew the applications.  Other questionable trademark filings included names related to tragedies, such as the MH17 and MH370 airplanes.  Last year’s trends noted the numerous BOSTON STRONG trademark application filings; as of today all but one of them has been abandoned.

Trademark scams continue. Despite one law firm’s successful quest to shutdown an operation preying on trademark holders, such scams from numerous companies offering negligible or questionable services remain prolific. Join a petition to “Request USPTO Investigation and Action Regarding Trademark Scams” here.

What to look for in 2015. Expect even more trademark disputes to go viral via social media, building upon the success of EAT MORE KALE fending off a claim from Chik-fil-A and Eat Mor Chikin. Also expect the number of nontraditional trademark filings to continue to grow as more brands protect colors, sounds, shapes, and other indicators of source featuring more than words or logos.

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© 2014 Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

About Erik M. Pelton: Erik Pelton® has been making trademarks bloom since 1999® as the founder of Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC®, a boutique trademark law firm in Falls Church, Virginia. The firm has registered more than 2,000 U.S. trademarks for clients and has represented dozens of parties in trademark disputes. In 2014, Erik presented on trademark and branding issues to a variety of audiences, including the American Bar Association and a junior high school class.