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Can a trademark make your company slogan truly yours?

Launching a new startup company can be about as exciting as anything you’ll experience in life, and at least as hectic. The project usually gets everything you can give, including time, money, relationships and your very best ideas. Take branding, for example.

Company found sometimes fall in love with the company’s name, logo and the slogan, tagline or motto that they themselves, the founder of the company, personally created. Don’t fall in love too quickly. The trademark office may grant your trademark only with time, or maybe never.

Your slogan must be distinctive

There are two ways the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) might find your slogan qualifies for a trademark. Both hinge on whether the slogan is distinctive, meaning in part that it’s characteristic of your company and distinguishes your company from others.

Your slogan may be “inherently distinctive”

Some trademarks are instantly, inherently distinctive to the company. Many company names achieve this partly by being meaningless (for example, invented words like Xerox or Exxon) or arbitrarily connected with the brand (Camel, Shell, Starbucks). Some trademarks are distinctive because they suggest the product without being merely descriptive (Coppertone, Netflix, OpenTable).

Slogans aren’t often fanciful or meaningless this way, but some become inherently distinctive by being arbitrary or strange, for example, Curiously Strong Mints, Got Milk?, or Can You Hear Me Now?

Your slogan may take on a distinctive “secondary meaning”

The slogan may qualify as distinctive of your company because your company is now firmly a “secondary meaning” of the phrase. Just do it. It’s the real thing. M’m m’m good. Such phrases still retain their dictionary definitions but have inevitably taken on additional, commercial meanings.

It can take a lot of time and money to establish such meanings in the minds of consumers. Sometimes they fail to catch on or stick no matter how much time and money you invest.

The association can be hard to prove, but either five years of uninterrupted presence in the marketplace, or big sales and advertising numbers can be significant tests.

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