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Can you trademark a slogan?

A great slogan can take an ad campaign to the next level. From "Maybe It's Maybelline" to "Just Do It," slogans have the power to become synonymous with a brand, but many aspiring entrepreneurs wonder if they can actually place a trademark on a specific string of words. 

The legal problems many slogans encounter is that they are usually common words. For instance, Nike's "Just Do It" has fairly common words in its slogan. However, that slogan has been in use for so long that is has become synonymous with the brand.  

Meeting criteria

Ultimately, to qualify for a trademark, a slogan needs to meet one of either two points of criteria. It needs to be inherently creative and distinctive. It also needs to develop a thorough second meaning that immediately calls to mind the service or product the company wants to sell. 

Determining second meaning

A slogan such as "Maybe It's Maybelline" will have an easier time attaining a trademark because it has the name of the company right in the sentence. A person saying that sentence could only possibly associate it with the company. Without that distinctiveness, a brand would have to rely on a second meaning developing. 

A second meaning relates to how the words in the slogans have transcended their traditional meanings. Typically, in order for this to happen, the company needs to use the slogan continuously for years of advertising to qualify for a trademark. At that point, the slogan usually attains another meaning. For example, Nike has used "Just Do It" for over 30 years now even though the phrase could technically relate to anything. 

If entrepreneurs want to trademark a slogan, then they should prepare for possible objections. Slogans can receive refusals on the grounds of ornamentation and for relating to informational matters. 

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