If you come up with a brilliant idea in this world, you have to know that someone else is probably going to try to steal it. That’s sad but realistic. In an effort to protect yourself, you can always try to copyright or trademark your idea before anyone else gets a chance to punk off your hard work. That way, if someone does, you can go to court to either stop them or sue for sweet, sweet cash.
If you’re not in the business of filing for trademarks, you may not be aware of just how many of them exist and what sorts of things have actually been trademarked. Some of them are more surprising than you’d think.
10. Superhero is a Trademark Owned by Both DC and Marvel
The superhero genre is about as big as it’s ever going to get and while the early 2020s have shown a small backlash against it, the fact remains that the bulk of the highest-grossing films of all time are superhero movies and both Marvel and DC have made close to $40 billion together at the box office.
Most people consider Marvel and DC competitors and there has long been a rivalry between the companies which shared writers and artists back and forth over the years and had several notable characters who seemed like they were copied from the other company at one time or another.
There have been times when Marvel and DC worked together, however. Their universes have crossed over in comics several times now and you can see Hulk and Superman throw down in print if you’re so inclined. But the companies have also teamed up behind the scenes to trademark the term “superhero.”
Anyone in America using “superhero” or “super hero” or any derivative of those terms is at risk of a lawsuit because it’s jointly owned by both companies. Two companies holding the same trademark is not usual, of course, but it’s not been challenged, either. They came together on the deal because, since they’re in the same business, they realized neither would succeed against the other in trying to claim the term in general. Also, neither Marvel nor DC is consistent in enforcing their rights. Many companies use the terms willy-nilly with no consequence, but others have been shot down by lawyers at the discretion of the publishers.
9. Darth Vader’s Breathing is a Trademark
Star Wars is a pop culture monster that started in the 1970s and has only gotten bigger. These days there are Star Wars movies, TV shows, animation, video games, action figures, Lego, and even Spaghetti-os. It’s everywhere. With all the money that Star Wars rakes in, the franchise has been valued at around $65 billion, you better believe things are secured with trademarks.
The obvious stuff is trademarked like names and likenesses and all that good stuff but, with Star Wars, it goes deeper. A character like Darth Vader is more than just a cool-sounding name and a sinister costume. That’s why even Vader’s breathing has been trademarked.
Defined as “the sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator,” Lucasfilm trademarked Vader’s distinctive sound so that no one else could try to sneak it into their own works without permission.
Trademarking a sound is not that unusual, as long as we’re talking about something distinctive. That “dun dun” sound from Law & Order, the roar of the MGM lion, and Tarzan’s unusual yell are all trademarked as well.
8. Play-Doh’s Scent Is A Trademark
If a trademark can protect a sound, why not a smell? That’s what the makers of Play-Doh thought when they decided to trademark that distinctive odor that’s hard to describe as anything beyond “that Play-Doh smell.” Except they did have to describe it since that’s part of the process.
According to the makers, the smell of Play-Doh can be described as “the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.” We’ll leave it to you to determine how accurate that is.
Hasbro trademarked the smell back in 2018, and it became one of several odors that enjoy such trademark protection. There are strawberry-scented toothbrushes, bubblegum-scented flip flops, and even a “flowery musk” smell in stores that sell electronics that are somehow also trademark-protected.
7. Real Estate Agent and Realtor are Different as Realtor is a Trademarked Word
If you have ever bought or sold property, you probably needed the help of a real estate agent. They’re easy enough to find online and whatever town you’re in probably has plenty who are willing to help. Plenty of real estate agents. But maybe not as many Realtors. Because they’re not the same thing and only one is trademarked.
Even though most of us would use real estate agent and realtor interchangeably, Realtors sure don’t want you to do that. Realtor is a trademark of NAR, the National Association of Realtors. A real estate agent has to become a member, adhere to a code of ethics that they get tested on, and may then be able to access greater resources for their business.
It’s also worth noting that Realtor is a proper noun and should always be capitalized, even though it rarely is. NAR puts a lot of effort into trying to maintain its trademark so it doesn’t become a generic term that loses meaning.
6. Pitbull Trademarked his “Eeeeeyoooo” Yell
If you’re a certain kind of person, you may be a fan of the music of Florida’s favorite son, Pitbull. Like Tarzan, Pitbull is known for a distinctive yell or “grito.” Pitbull managed to file for trademark protection for that yell, successfully arguing that the sound is so distinctly related to him that even if he’s not there and the sound was played, people who recognized it would immediately know it was his sound.
The yell, which was written out as EEEEEEEYOOOOOO for the benefit of the claim, was one of less than 40 distinctive sounds that have ever qualified for a trademark claim. That means Pitbull pulled off a fairly significant feat by getting it protected.
5. Taco Tuesday Was a Trademark Until 2023
Tacos are popular and for damn good reason, they’re delicious. Taco Tuesday is an unofficial event enjoyed by people all over America and has even been immortalized in a LeBron James clip that became a meme in which the basketball player just yells the phrase out. It’s such a common phrase and an idea that it has its own Wikipedia page.
Unbeknownst to much of the taco-loving public, the idea of having delicious tacos on a Tuesday was not just a spontaneous and alliterative idea at all. It was a carefully devised plan that was crafted by Taco John’s back in 1989, when they actually trademarked it. Who knew?
While the idea of Taco Tuesday has only really become a ubiquitous part of culture in the last 15 years or so, Taco John’s saw the writing on the wall and tried to capitalize. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work. After years of owning the trademark and seeing everyone and their uncle stomp all over it, they ended up giving it away after Taco Bell campaigned hard to make them free up the phrase under the idea it belonged to everyone due to common usage. But there was one holdout.
Taco John’s had the trademark in every state except New Jersey. Restaurateur Gregory Gregory (yes, that’s his actual name) was the New Jersey owner of the trademark and he held on for another three months after Taco John’s buckled.
Ironically, Gregory doesn’t like tacos and had long stated he would never give up the trademark and planned to pass it on to his grandson. Perhaps something else motivated him to change his mind.
4. Grammy Trophies Are Made of a Trademark Alloy Called Grammium
Once every year the biggest names in music come together for the Grammy Awards so that people on the internet can celebrate when their favorite musician wins or lament how the Grammy’s are garbage and don’t matter if their favorite artist loses. You can set your watch by it!
For those who still do care about the awards, every winner gets the statue known as a Grammy to take home and put on the mantle or whatever it is people do with such things. The name of the award comes from the fact it’s designed to look like a tiny gramophone, something which probably means little to most of the fans of music in the modern world as no one has used one in decades.
Like most awards statues, the Grammy appears to be gold, but that’s not the case. It’s made from a custom alloy cleverly named Grammium. The Grammy Association has trademarked the alloy to ensure no one else can use it to make Grammys, it seems. Or anything, really.
The alloy is made of zinc and aluminum and then it’s coated in 24k gold after it’s been formed. The horn of the gramophone part is made of brass. There’s no actual dollar value associated with the trophy if you ever stumble on one and wonder if it’s worth pawning, but it’s been estimated that it costs around $15 to make one.
3. Bubble Wrap is a Trademark
Everyone and their uncle knows bubble wrap at this point. It’s a sheet of plastic with little air pockets that snap when you pop them. People have used it to insulate packages for decades now. Less well-known is that bubble wrap is not a technical name by any means. Bubble wrap is the trademarked name of a “Cellular Cushioning Packaging Material which Contains Entrapped Bubbles of Air or Other Gases.”
The trademark was filed back in the 1960s but it became so ubiquitous as the name for that product and any product just like it that it is now considered a generic trademark. Things like Kleenex, aspirin, and jet ski have all lost the association with the original branding and if it becomes too commonplace, like it did with bubble wrap, the trademark is lost.
2. 7-Eleven Owns the Term Brainfreeze
Aside from being delightfully refreshing, a 7-Eleven Slurpee is also known for one very significant thing – pain. If you drink a Slurpee too fast the cold will invade your brain and make it feel like your mind is being shattered from the inside out. But that goes away in a minute and you can get back to drinking too fast.
Also known as brain freeze, a cold headache is caused by the rapid cooling of capillaries in your sinus area that causes vasoconstriction. For some people, it’s intensely painful but for many, it’s an oddly fun side effect, much the way hot sauce makes you uncomfortable for a moment before you go back for more.
For 7-Eleven, brain freeze was a great marketing tool. So much so that they trademarked the term. Even though both Slurpee and brain freeze have become almost generic terms for the things they describe, 7-Eleven owns them both.
1. Billy Joel Trademarked Billy Joel, and Yoko Ono Owns John Lennon
If you’re a celebrity, your name is part of your fame. When someone says Tom Cruise or Jennifer Lawrence, you know right away who they mean. And maybe, for some celebrities, that means they really want to have full ownership over their name so no one can ever use it in any context without permission. Which brings us to Billy Joel trademarking his own name. The trademark covers pretty much everything from merchandise to print materials and music that may include his name.
Beyond trademarking your own name, there are circumstances in which you can lay claim to someone else’s. Yoko Ono owns the trademark to John Lennon and if you want to use his signature in anything, she’s the gatekeeper. Unlike Joel, who trademarked a standard typeset version of his name, Ono holds the trademark to Lennon’s signature, which can’t be reproduced on any retail product.