IP Law 101: “Boston Strong” is not a valid trademark

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has refused to allow companies to trademark the phrase “Boston Strong.” Here is a decent overview of the use of “Boston Strong,” but I would like to take us all back to the meaning of a trademark and why we have trademarks.

Trademarks are meant to identify goods for use in commerce as being from a particular company and therefore, of a particular and known quality.  (Here.)  Trademarks are strongest when they are made-up words (e.g. Exxon for gasoline); words [or sounds, colours, etc.] that are unrelated to the product sold are also good trademarks (e.g. Starbucks, a name from Moby Dick, as a name for a coffee shop, or Comet for tile cleaner); and words that are related to the item being sold have a weaker claim.

The underlying rationale is that a trademark is meant to distinguish an item in commerce from another item in commerce.  There is nothing about “Boston Strong” that connotes a particular product, a quality of product, or a company as the source of those products. Trademarks are meant to eliminate, not perpetrate, confusion in the marketplace.

Those seeking to trademark “Boston Strong” have the heavy burden of proving that the term is linked to a particular product or source of products in the stream of commerce. That is patently absurd given the frequency with which the term is used and the sheer number of companies that use the term, logo, and colours.


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