11 of the most ridiculous trademark cases - after Katy Perry clothes and Adidas and Black Lives Matter battles

Some of these trademark applications have been approved and others have been comically rejected

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Roar singer Katy Perry lost a trademark battle with an Australian fashion designer who uses the same name as her. The songstress has been sued by a woman called Katie Taylor, who sells clothes under her birth name Katie Perry and said her merchandise infringed a trademark she owned. On Friday 28 April, a judge in the case found in favour of Taylor agreed that clothing sold for Perry's 2014 Australian tour did breach her trademark.

The judge also said the multi-award winning singer, who is engaged to Hollywood actor Orlando Bloom and has the real name Katheryn Hudson, used the Katy Perry name in "good faith" and therefore does not have to pay any personal compensation to the designer. The star's company Kitty Purry must, however, pay damages to an amount which will be decided next month.

This comes around a month after sportswear giant Adidas withdrew its opposition to a Black Lives Matter application for a trademark design featuring three parallel stripes. Earlier in March, Adidas had sent an objection to the application as they said it would look too much like its own iconic three stripe design which has been synonymous with the brand for over seven decades.

On Wednesday 29 March, however, Adidas confirmed to the BBC that they had backtracked on their initial request - but they did not say why. A spokesperson told the BBC: "Adidas will withdraw its opposition to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation's trademark application as soon as possible."

The Black Lives Matter movement gained worldwide prominence in summer 2020 after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed in the United States by a police officer who knelt on his neck. The group applied for a US trademark in November 2020 for a yellow three-stripe design to use on merchandise including clothing and bags.

In light of these two recent high profile cases we take a look at 11 other trademark cases from the past - some won, some lost - which have been somewhat strange.

Mariah Carey - The phrase ‘Queen of Christmas’

One of the most popular Christmas songs is, without a doubt, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. The success of this song has led to some people unofficially naming Carey as the Queen of the Christmas season. The singer was obviously very aware of the title her fans had given to her and in 2021 she tried to trademark the phrase Queen of Christmas. Her application was turned down in November last year, however, by the US Patent and Trademark Office as a singer called Elizabeth Chan, who creates songs especially for the festive season, had objected.

Paris Hilton - The phrase ‘that’s hot!’

Paris Hilton became famous in the early 2000s after she appeared in the TV series The Simple Life. It was on this show that Hilton was shown to keep saying the phrase ‘that’s hot!’ to express her approval of something. She trademarked the phrase in and around 2007, and went on to sue the card company Hallmark after they used it on one of their products, alongside an image of a blonde girl which looked like Hilton. Hallmark claimed that the card was produced through free speech. In 2010, Hilton and Hallmark announced they had reached an out-of-court settlement, but the details were not disclosed. The card, however, was taken off the market.

Elvis Presley family - Brewdog drink

Elvis Presley died in 1977, but he is still one of the most iconic people in music and culture history. This means that many people still use his name in their products, but the Presley family do not like all of them. In 2016, the Presley family had a trademark dispute with Scottish brewery and pub chain BrewDog, who didn’t like the use of Elvis’ name in its Elvis Juice IPA product. 

BrewDog’s founders, James Watt and Martin Dickie, responded by using deed poll to officially change their names to Elvis so they could say they named the beer after themselves. Watt and Dickie even released a press statement full of Elvis-related puns in which they said that they were “caught in a trap”. They even said: “We may even file a case against Mr Presley for using our names on all his records without our written permission”. At first, the brewer initially lost its battle to trademark the beer in the UK, but then that was overturned and the company was given permission to trademark Brewdog Elvis Juice, but not Elvis Juice. Brewdog went on to try to trademark the beer in Europe, but the EU Intellectual Property Office turned down this application.

11 ridiculous trademark cases involving Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, Elvis and more.11 ridiculous trademark cases involving Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, Elvis and more.
11 ridiculous trademark cases involving Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, Paris Hilton, Victoria Beckham, Elvis and more.

Twitter - The word ‘tweet’

We’re all very familiar with Twitter and using the platform to send out tweets. Twitter was awarded exclusive rights to the trademark for the word tweet by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2011, but it wasn’t an easy path to get there. In 2008, their application to trademark the word was rejected because another developer, Twittad, had registered the word in its slogan, Let Your Ad Meet Tweets, the year prior. But, it was later judged that Twitter had made the word tweet famous before Twittad registered the word and the firm had to hand over trademark rights.

Sarah and Bristol Palin - Their names

American politician Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol Palin have trademarked each of their names. The application from the ex-Alaska governor stated that she wanted to protect her name for business and advertising purposes, political elections, entertainment services and for 'providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics’. They were each granted a trademark by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2011. It was apparently the second attempt the duo had made for trademarks, after their first applications were supposedly rejected as they were not signed.

Harley Davidson - The sound of their engine revving

Harley Davidson is one of the most famous names in the biking word, and as well as looking distinctive these motorcycles also sound distinctive. So much so, that in 1994 the company tried to trademark the sound of their bike engine revving. Harley Davidson competitors opposed the trademark application as they argued that their bike engines sounded similar. In 2000, Harley Davidson gave up its attempt to trademark the sound.

Apple - The phrase ‘app store’

App store stands for application store, but in 2008 Apple was granted a trademark for the phrase by the US Patent and Trademark Office. In 2011, Apple sued Amazon for the use of the term "app store" to refer to their services. Another competitor Microsoft, however, filed multiple objections against Apple's trademark, saying that it is a generic term. In January 2013, a United States district court rejected Apple's trademark claims against Amazon because their app store did not look like the Apple one, and in July that year Apple dropped the case.

McDonalds - The ‘mc’ prefix

Fast food chain McDonald’s has made multiple attempts over the years to trademark various things, including the name Big Mac (which was lost), but one of the most confusing relates to the ‘mc’ prefix, which has come to be thought of as being a symbol of the brand. McDonald’s had successfully trademarked the ‘Mc’ prefix on many types of food, drinks and restaurant services in 2012, but this trademark was lost on some of its products sold within the European Union in 2019. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) ruled McDonald's had not proved genuine use of the ‘mc’ prefix on some of the products it trademarked after an Irish fast food chain Supermac raised an objection. The EUIPO did, however, uphold McDonald's right to own the ‘mc’ trademark on chicken nuggets and some of its sandwich products.

Peterborough Football Club - the word ‘posh’

Depending on your interests, you may think of one of two things when you hear the word ‘posh’. For those with a keen interest in music, you may think of Victoria Beckham, also known as Posh Spice from her days in girl band Spice Girls. For football fans, however, they may think of Peterborough United. The two don’t have any apparent links though, except for back in 2002 when Beckham opposed the football club’s attempt to register their decades old posh nickname as a trademark. Both parties still continue to use the nickname posh.

Facebook - The word ‘face’

Facebook is one of the biggest social media networks, and it was even granted a trademark for the word face from the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2010. The trademark only applies to online sites and services used to exchange messages, but Apple’s FaceTime has continued to be safe.

Taylor Swift - Phases like ‘this sick beat’

Songstress Taylor Swift is one of the most famous singers of modern times and is known for some impactful lyrics. Back in 2015, she trademarked many lyrics related to her album 1989. These include, but are not limited to, This Sick Beat, Party Like It's 1989 and Nice to Meet You. Where You Been? This now means that nobody else can make merchandise featuring these phrases, which were made popular by her songs, except her.