25 Aug 2016

Trademarking: We should’ve seen it coming

We should’ve seen it coming…

Wait…can I even say that now?

This week saw the UK Intellectual Property Office approve an application by Specsavers to trademark the phrase “should’ve”. Is this the beginning of a prolific corporate coup of our public language? It might just be.

While some common words have been protected for a long time as brand names such as “Windows” and “Apple”, this makes sense. However, Specsavers procurement of the word “should’ve” joins a list of the more peculiar, alongside Carlsberg successfully claiming their mark on the word “probably” and Facebook owning the twin components of “face” and “book”. Are we on a slippery slope of one day seeing all the terms in our dictionaries privatised? Even maps might not be safe after we saw Chelsea football club trademark, well, Chelsea, despite its being well known as a public location.

The world of trademarking is a murky one indeed, however, Specsavers nabbing “should’ve” isn’t the wackiest copywriting attempt we’ve seen. Compare it to, say, Sarah Palin’s fearless attempt to trademark her own name. Yet the headstrong Alaskan failed to do so after her request was denied, apparently (oh the irony!), Palin forgot to sign her own name. Another bold attempt was put forward by Walmart, who despite being well on their way to owning almost everything the US has to offer, failed to trademark the yellow smiley face. Our emojis are safe for now. Phew!

Why stop at trademarking a place name, your own name or a smiley face? If you’re Syracuse University you can try to trademark a colour! The famously orange univeristy attempted to trademark just that…”orange”, causing uproar amongst all other “orange” universities. In line with the ridiculous, Harley Davidson tried to trademark the sound of a revving engine…that’s right. Although this isn’t the first attempt to own a sound, MGM successfully own the lion’s roar, however, Harley wasn’t quite so lucky with its competitors complaining that their engines, surprise surprise, sounded exactly the same.

But it’s ok. Despite the tumultuous world of trademarking, the breadth of the English language still provides vast pickings for companies wishing to own a word, or colour, or sound or whatever. Maybe I should trademark “infuriating” while I still can.