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Americans Rush to Trademark Catchy Phrases


FILE - House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana displays a "Make America Great Again" hat while speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington after a House Republican leadership meeting, Nov. 15, 2016. Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign owns the phrase.

Ideas were flying at a brainstorming session to create a slogan for a group of North Carolina Democrats when Catherine Cloud blurted out a phrase that made a colleague's eyes light up: "Because this is America."

The words were quickly scrawled on a notepad, and the New Hanover County Democratic Party in Wilmington began its scramble to own the phrase. It applied days later for a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

From President Donald Trump's dash to own "Keep America Great" for his 2020 re-election campaign — even before he took office — to a rush by a foundation for the victims of the September 11 attacks to claim "Let's Roll" just days after New York's Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, Americans are rushing to trademark catchy phrases.

There were 391,837 trademark applications filed last year, with the number growing an average of 5 percent annually, government reports show. The USPTO does not break out how many of those applications were for phrases.

FILE - Paris Hilton is pictured Sept. 1 2007, in Palma, in the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Spain. Hilton sued Hallmark Cards Inc. in U.S. District Court on Sept 7, 2007, seeking an injunction and unspecified damages to be determined at trial over the use of her picture and catchphrase "That's Hot" on a greeting card.
FILE - Paris Hilton is pictured Sept. 1 2007, in Palma, in the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Spain. Hilton sued Hallmark Cards Inc. in U.S. District Court on Sept 7, 2007, seeking an injunction and unspecified damages to be determined at trial over the use of her picture and catchphrase "That's Hot" on a greeting card.

'That's Hot'

The surge is the result of headline-grabbing cases like socialite Paris Hilton's winning settlement of a lawsuit over her trademarked catchphrase "That's Hot" from her former television reality show, said trademark attorney Howard Hogan of Washington.

"It can't help but inspire others," Hogan said. "It feels good to get recognition of something you feel you have created."

Trademarks can mean cash from everything from bumper stickers to thongs printed with the protected phrase. More important for some, however, is claiming ownership of a powerful message.

" 'Because this is America' is a rallying cry that focuses on what we have in common, rather than what divides us," Cloud said.

The phrase is the tagline in a commercial that was set for online release Thursday about the New Hanover Democrats' key issues: "Clean water. Because this is America," "Quality education for every child. Because this is America," and "No matter your ethnicity, you are welcome here. Because this is America."

Mindful that the slogan that could easily be employed by rival Republicans, the county Democratic committee filed to trademark it just 18 days after Cloud said it.

Trump looks ahead

Two days before Trump's inauguration on January 20, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. applied to trademark the phrase he said he intends to use for his 2020 re-election campaign: "Keep America Great," both with and without an exclamation point. The campaign committee already owns the trademark for Trump's 2016 slogan: "Make America Great Again."

Just 15 days after Todd Beamer inspired fellow airline passengers to overwhelm hijackers above a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, the Todd M. Beamer Memorial Foundation applied to trademark his rallying cry, "Let's Roll."

FILE - A woman in the audience, center, holds out her button that reads "Nasty Woman" as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Sanford Civic Center in Sanford, Fla., Nov. 1, 2016.
FILE - A woman in the audience, center, holds out her button that reads "Nasty Woman" as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at Sanford Civic Center in Sanford, Fla., Nov. 1, 2016.

Three days after "Nasty Woman" grabbed headlines when Trump used it to describe his opponent Hillary Clinton in an October 19, 2016, debate, entrepreneurs across America started filing trademark applications for the phrase. There are at least 11 applications pending to trademark "Nasty Woman" for the sale of products as wide-ranging as pillows, wine, firearms, scented body spray, mugs, backpacks and jewelry.

Typically it takes about 18 months for the Patent Office to grant a trademark.

But it can take much longer, as cartoonist Bob Mankoff of The New Yorker learned when he tried to trademark the caption to a 1993 cartoon. Two decades passed before he was allowed to register it on January 19, 2016.

Ironically, the phrase aptly describes Mankoff's anticipated payday from the sale of merchandise, bearing the words that first appeared under his cartoon of a businessman trying to schedule a meeting: "How about never — is never good for you?"

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