In January of 2008, owners of the New England Patriots attempted to trademark “19-0” referring to their presumed perfect season, just before the Super Bowl, but were denied. In an unexpected twist, the New England Patriots subsequently lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. Afterwards, the snarky New York Post responded by trying to trademark “18-1.”
Walmart conspicuously displays the iconic yellow smiley face throughout all of their 4,756 stores. In 2006, they tried to trademark it. Because the smiley face has been around since the 1970s, the courts ruled that it’s in the public domain. Walmart can use the smiley face but they cannot trademark it or prevent anyone else from using it.
Sarah Palin tried to trademark her own name. The effort failed, not because of any court decision, but because she forgot to sign the application.
In 2009 Boise State University put down blue astroturf in Bronco Stadium in Idaho, affectionately known as “Smurf Turf.” They applied to secure the trademark to this signature look, and were successful. However, the trademark only protects the color blue. In response, In 2010, Eastern Washington installed bright red turf, and Central Arkansas installed astroturf in their school colors of purple and gray.
NBC successfully trademarked its signature three-tone jingle, and MGM likewise trademarked the roar of the MGM lion. Harley Davidson followed suit in an attempt to trademark the sound of a revving engine. Other motorcycle manufacturers objected, noting that the revving of a Harley sounds identical to the revving of any other motorcycle engine. Harley Davidson dropped the quest in 2000.
In 2013, Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, attempted to trademark the sound of a Budweiser can opening. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the application, stating that “the applied-for mark is not inherently distinctive because all beverage cans make a highly similar sound.”
In 2005, a cosmetic company called Eden Sarl tried to trademark the fresh smell of strawberries so that they could be the only company allowed to use the scent in soaps, face creams, lotions, and make-up. The court ruled that the smell of a strawberry changes as the strawberry ripens, and that different strains of strawberries carry different odors, and therefore the trademark was denied.
In the sit-com “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” actor Alfonso Ribeiro played Carlton Banks, who does a wacky dance to a Tom Jones song. This dance became known as “The Carlton.” When the dance was included in the video game Fortnite, Riberio tried to trademark the dance. The court ruled that a simple combination of three dance steps in a simple dance routine was not registrable as a choreographic work.
Subway is famous for the footlong sandwiches, and tried to trademark the word “footlong” in 2013. The trademark board ruled that the term was too generic to qualify for a trademark.
The “devil-horns” hand gesture is a universal symbol of rock ‘n’ roll music, with the pinky and the index finger extended and the other fingers turned down. In 2017, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons filed an application with the USPTO claiming he first popularized the symbol during the band’s tour in 1974. Only two weeks after filing, and after much criticism in the media, Simmons abandoned his claim.