Many different things can operate as a trademark: a logo, a symbol, a single word, a name, and even a slogan. A trademark can potentially be anything that identifies or signifies the source of the product or service. It must function to distinguish that product or service from other similar products and services. At its essence, a trademark is a tool used by a company to differentiate its products from others in the mind of the consuming public.
Companies sometimes want to get trademark protection for a slogan. For example, they may claim to have the “World’s Fastest Tire-Changing Service” or “Best Shrimp in Texas.” But such slogans can present problems in terms of trademark protection because they don’t necessarily satisfy the two requirements for a trademark noted above.
If the slogan is merely informational or praises the product, it will most likely not qualify for trademark registration. When a slogan similar to the above two is used, it doesn’t really function primarily as a source indicator. Having the “World’s Fastest Tire-Changing Service” doesn’t really tell you who is behind the service in the way that the Midas or Goodwrench logo on the front of the building does. It might be true that with time, a certain brand may come to be known as the fastest tire-changers, but that distinction is acquired and often only comes with long-term use. The slogan really functions more as a description of the service than as an indicator of the provider of the service.
Context matters as well. Slogans placed on clothing, for instance, can be difficult to present as proper trademark usage, because they often seem to convey a message rather than a source. Graphic tees with clever or humorous phrases likely won’t qualify for federal trademark protection because the message is predominantly there for fashion purposes, not for source-indicating purposes.
Slogans used with services can be even more troublesome. Trademark Office rules state that “use of a designation or slogan to convey advertising or promotional information, rather than to identify and indicate the source of the services, is not service mark use.” Another concern with service-based slogans is to avoid describing the product in the service. So, a home-cleaning business probably can’t describe the speed of the mop. A bakery slogan trumpeting the aroma of their sticky buns might not pass the test.
There are a number of issues that can come up when attempting to secure trademark registration on a slogan. Bottom line: slogans can be a tricky area of trademark law and are worth some definite consideration – and probably a talk with a lawyer – before investing much time and money in one. You want to avoid spending a lot of money on a trademark that proves to be impossible to register.