30 Things You Won’t Believe Are Trademarked
Using these words, sounds, and even colors could set you up for a lawsuit
Can you own a color? Can you lay claim to a noise? If you ask T-Mobile, Reese’s, or George Lucas, the answer is yes. In fact, there are countless words, images, colors, and even sounds—some of which you likely use on a near-daily basis—that are actually someone’s intellectual property, with the paperwork to prove it. So, before you find yourself on the wrong side of a cease-and-desist, read up on these surprising things that have been copyrighted or trademarked.
Photos of the Eiffel Tower at night
Trying to sell your photo of the Eiffel Tower at night might just end up costing you in the long run. While the tower itself is part of the public domain (so feel free to snap away during daylight hours), its lighting display is a separate work of art—and a copyrighted one, to boot. If you did want to sell your image, you’d need to request permission from the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, which runs the famous landmark.
The term “That’s hot”
Reality-star-turned-DJ Paris Hilton made such an impression with her catchphrase, “That’s hot,” that she decided to trademark it. The socialite was so adamant about maintaining her intellectual property that she even sued Hallmark for use of the phrase on a greeting card.
Usain Bolt’s “Lightning Bolt” gesture
Surprisingly enough, even a gesture can be trademarked. In addition to trademarking his name, runner Usain Bolt has gone so far as to trademark his signature “lightning bolt” victory move.
The Law & Order sound
That “dun dun” sound that precedes every episode of Law & Order was created by composer Mike Post, and its trademark is owned by NBC Universal Media.
The orange color on your peanut butter cup’s packaging isn’t something you’ll see on any other food wrapper. If you flip that treat over, you’ll see that Reese’s wrappers clearly state the “orange background color is a registered trademark.”
The word “Baggies”
You may use the word “baggies” as a generic name for plastic sandwich bags, but it’s actually a trademarked term. “Baggies” is a registered trademark of the Pactiv Corporation, a subsidiary of Reynolds Group Holdings—the folks behind Reynolds Wrap.
The phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble”
Boxing and wrestling announcer Michael Buffer knew he had a good idea on his hands when he came up with the phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble!” Buffer trademarked the phrase in 1992 and has reportedly made more than $400 million from licensing its use in the decades since.
The word “Face”
While staking claim to the word “face” might seem a little overkill, that’s exactly what Mark Zuckerberg managed to do following the success of Facebook. The word “Face” is now a trademark of Facebook—but only when associated with telecommunications.
That bright pink on the signage at your local T-Mobile store is more than just a pretty color. T-Mobile is so adamant about magenta being its trademarked property that the telecom giant has issued cease-and-desists to multiple companies for using the hue.
The sound of Darth Vader’s breathing
Did you know you can even trademark the sound of someone’s breath? Well, if the individual in question is Darth Vader, that is. That’s right: Lucasfilm has actually trademarked Anakin Skywalker’s famous under-the-helmet inhale and exhale.
The phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong”
It may come as no surprise that Donkey Kong is a Nintendo trademark. That said, even die-hard fans of the gaming brand might be shocked to discover that “It’s on like Donkey Kong,” a phrase popular among ’90s TV characters and sorority girls getting ready to spar, is also trademarked by Nintendo.
Don’t try to copy your UPS driver’s look unless you want to talk to the company’s lawyer. That chocolate brown hue—formally known as Pullman Brown—is a company trademark.
The phrase “Super Hero”
While it may seem like a catchall for anyone with special powers and a cape, the term “Super Hero” is actually a trademarked phrase. However, somewhat interestingly (and to the dismay of fans who may prefer one company over the other), it’s co-owned by Marvel and DC.
The slide-to-unlock gesture
The slide-to-unlock gesture you use to unlock an iPhone is more than just a cool feature. It’s also a trademark of Apple, and the company even sued Samsung for $119.6 million for using the coded gesture on their machines—and won.
That little blue box better be from Tiffany. While it’s often imitated, the particular shade associated with the jewelry giant is trademarked—but only for boxes and bags.
The term “Realtor”
Though the term is frequently used as a synonym for a real-estate agent, “Realtor” is actually a trademarked term. Try using it in the wrong contexts and the National Association of Realtors might just come calling.
The Zippo lighter click
That satisfying sound you hear when you flick a Zippo lighter to ignite your favorite candle? That’s trademarked. The brand says the sound is so specific to their products that they secured its trademark in 2018.
The word “Onesie”
Think “onesie” is a generic term for a baby’s one-piece garment? Think again. That name is actually the trademarked property of the Gerber Products Company.
The Apple startup sound
Apple isn’t shy about trademarking anything associated with their electronic, and that includes sounds. In addition to trademarking the swipe-to-unlock mechanism, the company also trademarked the sound that plays when you start up one of its devices.
Boise State’s blue field
You’ll want to think twice before installing blue Astroturf on your local football field. The blue turf famously used on Boise State’s football fields is actually a trademark of the university.
Ever wonder what the difference is between ping pong and table tennis? The former is trademarked by games company Parker Brothers, and the latter is a generic term for the same game.
The phrase “This sick beat”
You may think your beats are pretty sick, but don’t publish that thought anywhere Taylor Swift might see it. The songstress trademarked the phrase “this sick beat” from her hit single “Shake It Off,” as well as “Nice to meet you, where you been?” and a handful of other utterances from her album 1989.
While you may see the color elsewhere, you won’t catch the Post-It yellow on any office supplies unless they’re made by Post-It’s parent company 3M. That’s right: the sunny hue is trademarked.
Whether it’s in your drink or being used in a science class, if you’re referring to that solid carbon dioxide as “Dry Ice,” you’re using a trademarked term. In fact, Dry Ice has been the trademark of the Dry Ice Corporation of America for the better part of a century, since the brand first applied for trademark status in 1925.
The New York Stock Exchange bell ring
Don’t try to use the sound of the New York Stock Exchange bell or you might end up paying dearly for it. The bell’s iconic clang is trademarked, as are the capitalized phrases Opening Bell and Closing Bell.
America’s favorite blonde-haired plaything not only has a trademarked name, but even her favorite color is legally protected. The color, Pantone 219C, is a Barbie trademark across multiple categories. Barbie’s parent company, Mattel, even sued RCA Records for using the color in the packaging for Aqua’s single “Barbie Girl.” The title and content of the song also got the band in hot water.
The phrase “Just a kid from Akron”
LeBron James owns the basketball court—and a number of phrases, too. Most notably, King James owns the trademark to the phrase, “Just a kid from Akron.”
The word “Bam!”
While it’s totally fine to shout “Bam!” at your stove as much as you see fit, don’t try associating it with any cookware—unless you’re Emeril Lagasse. The celebrity chef trademarked the utterance as it relates to kitchenware.
Want to name your new menu item after the mayor of Flavor Town? Nice try. Food Network star Guy Fieri trademarked his name under International Class 30, meaning you can’t use his moniker in association with virtually any food product. Oh, and Flavor Town? Yeah, he trademarked that, too.
Can you really trademark a price? Well, you can if you’re 50 Cent. The rapper even went so far as to sue Taco Bell for using his name and image in an advertisement that suggested he change his moniker to 79 Cent, 89 Cent, or 99 Cent in exchange for a donation to the charity of his choice. And for more amazing information you’ll love to share, check out these 100 Awesome Facts About Everything.
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