Is there a specific sound that unmistakably identifies your business or brand? You may be able to secure a trademark for it.
A trademark is any word, name, symbol or device (or any combination thereof) that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. So, sounds can absolutely become trademarks as long as they identify the source of a good or service and distinguish them from others. That said, it is important to note that “sound marks” or trademarks for sound are still quite difficult to secure.
One of the first successful sound marks to be approved is owned by the National Broadcast Company (NBC) for their signature sound of chimes that plays when the network’s logo is shown.
The sound was “…so inherently different or distinctive that it attaches to the subliminal mind of the listener to be awakened when heard and to be associated with the source or event…” that it could be successfully trademarked by its owner or creator.
Current Examples of Sound Marks
You’ll likely recognize many of the other sounds that have since been successfully trademarked following NBC’s chimes that instant recognition of the sound is the point. Your brand must be large enough and your sound so distinctive that it leaves no ambiguity or confusion in the mind of the listener that the sound they are hearing belongs to you.
Consider the following trademarked sounds that have been approved to better understand just how universally recognizable a trademarked sound must be:
- MGM’s roaring lion
- The Harlem Globetrotter’s theme song ( written by Brother Bones and His Shadows)
- AAMCO’s sound mark, which is a voice that says “Double A” followed by two honks and the spoken “M-C-O”
- 60 Minutes’ ticking stopwatch
- Homer Simpson saying “D’oh!”
- Darth Vader’s breathing
- Tarzan’s yell
- The Pillsbury Doughboy’s giggle
What If My Sound is Not Different or Distinctive Enough for a Trademark?
Harley Davidson ran into this problem after fighting for years in court to trademark the purring sound of their v-twin motorcycle engine. It was hard to prove that this sound of a motorcycle revving up pointed only to Harley Davidson as the source of the noise. They eventually dropped their bid for the mark as it was too difficult to secure.
The good news, however, is that if you are not successful in securing a sound mark, or you don’t believe your sound can pass muster with the USPTO, you still likely have copyright protection for your sound.
Anytime you create a sound for your business or marketing, it receives a copyright as soon as it’s made in a tangible and fixed medium. You can then file for registration of that copyright with the US Copyright Office, which will allow you to enforce your rights in court. The copyright protection you receive will last up to 60 years following the death of the creator.
Copyright or Sound Mark… How do I Choose?
The best way to decide if you should apply for a trademark or a copyright of the sounds that are identifiers of your business or brand is to speak with an intellectual property attorney. Your attorney can help you evaluate the pros and cons of each option, and help you pursue a path that will realistically protect what you are creating without getting held up in unnecessary legal battles.
If you need assistance evaluating what elements of your brand can be trademarked or copyrighted, we are here to help. Simply call 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation with one of our intellectual property lawyers.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.