What’s in a Meme

Seems like people all over are just flocking to the trademark office these days, just as soon as any phrase pops off. Someone, somewhere claims they made the phrase poppin’ and now they don’t want anyone else to use it without paying them. They start making t-shirts, mugs, cellphone cases and poppers, you name it. And they want the phrase protected.

We’re seeing more and more of this because videos and memes tend to go viral, and something that started as an inside joke amongst friends becomes the most widely used phrase on the planet. And when it does, it becomes very hard to protect.

Trademark law was designed to protect the consumer from making purchases from brands by mistake because a competitor’s branding was similar. It also sought to protect the provider of the goods/services by not providing a monopoly to any brand in an industry by permitting them to obtain trademarks over words, phrases, designs that are commonly used in that industry, thereby prohibiting competitor’s from using certain words that are almost required to be used in trade.

Similarly, the trademark office refuses to grant protection to words or phrases that have become widely used, period. Presently, there are at least 5 trademarks being filed for the mark “OK Boomer”, which was a meme that went viral on social media. Once it did, people started making merchandise bearing the mark and a few took it a step further to gain trademark protection. Fox network is in that bunch seeking protection for an original television series.

The denial of Cardi B’s “Okurrr” and Lebron James’ “Taco Tuesday” on the basis that they were widely used terms seem to predict that all 5 of the present marks will receive that same rejection. But time will tell.

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