IP Information & News

Pity the fool who doesn’t trade mark their catchphrase

Akber Ahmed

By Akber Ahmed

Trade Mark Assistant

Protecting your creative endeavours with IP can be extremely profitable — even if your creativity consists of just a few words. Here’s a look at some interesting cases of obtaining a trade mark for a catchphrase — so valuable due to their potential to be licensed for all sorts of media and products around the world.

Let’s get ready to rumble

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Boxing fans were treated to an exhilarating fight with a controversial conclusion between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder recently. As any true boxing aficionado knows, a bout really starts just before the bell rings, when the legendary Michael Buffer yells out the magic words ‘LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE’. As Sugar Ray Leonard simply (yet perfectly) put it, Buffer’s catchphrase “makes you want to fight”.

This battle cry has preceded the world's biggest bouts since the mid-1980s. Being both a big boxing fan and trade mark enthusiast, I was surprised (and frankly disappointed) that I didn’t know it was registered as a trade mark. Since 1992, Buffer has reportedly made a whopping $400 million by licensing his famous phrase for use in movies, commercials, video games and much more.

Interestingly, outside of the ring, Buffer was part of a New York City taxi campaign to get riders to buckle up. Anyone who entered a cab would hear, ‘Let’s get ready to rumble… for safety!’. Personally, I think they could have done better…

Hakuna Matata

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Recently, Kenyan newspapers have claimed ownership of the phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ and accused Disney of pinching it from Kenyan culture. Translated, the phrase means ‘no problems’ or ‘no worries’ and is a common expression throughout east Africa.

To the rest of the world, it's best known as a song from The Lion King — and Disney secured its registration as a trade mark for merchandising back in 1994, which coincided with the movie's original release. The row is now once again making headlines as hype builds for the film's live action remake in 2019.

I pity the fool

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Mr. T is known for his trade mark hairstyle, gold jewellery, and tough-guy image (as well as Snickers adverts, of course). He was also known for his catchphrase ‘I pity the fool’ which he registered in 2011 for a range of products from keyrings to costumes and caps.

However, ironically, he does not hold the trade mark over the use of ‘Mr T’ itself.

This is actually held by a company in Illinois for a foam, T-shaped scrubber device for ‘household cleaning needs’, as well as by an automobile part company. What a pity…

You're fired

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Real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-star-turned-president Donald Trump sought to profit from his ‘You're fired!’ catchphrase, which he was best known for during his time on NBC's The Apprentice.

In 2004, he tried to trade mark four variations of the phrase for everything from alcoholic drinks to casino services, but the application was denied by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Office thought it could be mistaken for an educational board game called ‘You're Hired!’

Interestingly enough, a further search on the USPTO website showed that the phrase ‘You're fired 2020’ was registered in relation to the political service category.

That’s hot

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Before the entire Kardashian Family hit our screens with their show ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, Paris Hilton was one of the first people to exemplify the ‘celebutante’ — a celebrity who gains fame not through creative endeavours, but an inherited wealth and lifestyle — when she starred in the reality TV show ‘The Simple Life’. For the uninitiated (count yourselves lucky), ‘That's hot’ became her signature catchphrase.

It became so popular in fact that she secured a trade mark for merchandising reasons. This move paid off just a few years later when she got into a dispute about its use with greetings cards company Hallmark. Hilton sued Hallmark in 2007 and after a lengthy legal battle, the two parties settled out of court for an unknown (but probably quite large) sum.

You cannot be serious

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Tennis legend John McEnroe's famous 1981 Wimbledon rant against a line call has become one of the things he’s best remembered for, as he used it for the title of his autobiography.

He registered the famous phrase first in television entertainment and then for T-shirts, until 2014, when it wasn’t renewed.

The legal bit

In the entertainment industry, registering a catchphrase as a trade mark can be smart move. In addition to giving you control over how your phrase is used, it may give you the opportunity to license your mark to profit from your work and prevent other parties from using it without your permission — leaving you to exclaim ‘Show me the money’ instead of ‘D'oh!’…

If you’re interested in protecting your brand through trade marks, or licensing your rights to others, feel free to get in touch with me at axa@udl.co.uk.

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