OMG – ‘WTF’ is a registered trademark ?!

trademarkOne of the main benefits of working as an intellectual property lawyer is that I get to know the latest in everything. Whether it is the latest technology through patents, products through brand names and designs or movies/songs/art etc through copyright, I get to live vicariously in the present and near future through my clients. Oddly enough, this level of knowledge as a natural extension seems to extend to the latest slang!

Trademark law has come a long way from being a mark that separated one person in the trade from another. What was initially just a word or logo that represented your business, has over the years been expanded to include slogans, phrases, and as an offshoot – slang

While the Oxford Dictionary defines slang as –

A type of language consisting of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. I also like the urban dictionary’s definition – The ever-evolving bastardization of the written and spoken language as a result of social and cultural idolization of uneducated, un-intelligible celebrities.

Whatever your definition of slang is, going through the trademark journals (which comes out each Monday with approximately 1000 new trademarks) is most often an entertaining and educating experience.

Once a word has been in use for a short period of time in mainstream or social media as the case may be, you can indubitably expect to see an application with the Trademark Registry. While it may seem quite smart and enthusiastic of the applicants, in many cases, there is absolutely no benefit that comes out of it. For instance the term SELFIE, which was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2013, which everyone knows the meaning of, makes no sense as a trademark. That however hasn’t stopped 4 people from filing applications for the trademark SELFIE in several class of goods and services. Some of them don’t make very much sense – like the application SELFIE for building and construction repair.

Some of the interesting applications that I have come across are quite hilarious and more so in conjunction with the goods and services that they have applied the trademark for. While I haven’t mentioned all the applications for a given word, I listed out some of the more interesting ones that I could think of and came across below:

Trademark Goods/Services applied for Status
WTF! Providing Education (what the f**k indeed!) Registered
OMG – Oh my God! Online Marketing Pending
SELFIE Building and Construction repair Pending
DUDE and DUDETTE Medicines Pending
BFF 24/7 Stationary Pending
PHABLET Mobile Phones Pending
DOPE Medicine Pending
ROFL Sale of clothes Pending

In general, the classes for pharmaceutical products, software, clothing, and business related services had more applications for words that are commonly used as slang or abbreviations. I guess it makes sense to an extent, given that these are products and services face tremendous competition and latching on to a colloquial term to sell a product or service may work.

On the other hand it also just comes across as applicants who are trying to gain some proprietary rights over interesting popular words.

Whatever the purpose, as long as the Trademark Registry examines applications just to see if they describe the goods or if there are previous similar marks, many of these applications may go through to registration, if they already haven’t.

Seeing as my skill at identifying popular slang depends heavily on what I identify as slang (I recognize dude, BFF and dope – for all I know, they already may be using selfie of the inked finger after voting as “inkie” or some such thing!). If you can think of new slang that’s doing the rounds now, comment in the section below, and I’ll check if someone has applied for the trademark already!

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