Can I Trademark a Saying on a T-Shirt?
Although there are few answers to questions in trademark law that are completely cut and dry, when it comes to whether you can trademark a slogan, phrase, or saying on a t-shirt, the answer is always “it depends.”
The default rule is that you can trademark a slogan, phrase, or saying if you use that slogan, phrase, or saying as branding for your business. Since trademarks are designed to help customers and consumers identify the source of the goods or services they’re purchasing, whether a slogan, phrase, or saying on a t-shirt can be trademarked depends on the extent it’s used not just on the products you’re registering it for, but on secondary products or advertisements as well. In other words, if you’re interested in trademarking a phrase that sounds cool on a shirt but that’s the only place you’re ever going to use it, you’re not going to be able to trademark it. On the other hand, if you’re a company like Nike and using a phrase like “Just Do It” on shirts, advertising, sports equipment, shoes, and dozens of other products, you’re going to have a much better chance of registering that trademark. To sum it up, if a slogan is being used in what the Trademark Office calls an “ornamental” way (as in just a clever design that’s attractive to consumers), you’re not going to be able to trademark it.
If you’ve come up with some awesome slogan, phrase, or saying that you want to print on a t-shirt, contact us today to speak with trademark attorney Eric Norton to discuss whether you can actually protect that saying with a trademark or if it looks like the use is purely ornamental.
And please, please, please do not try to use a phrase like “Have a Nice Day” or “I Can’t Breathe” or “Je Suis Charlie” that has entered such widespread public use that it cannot be trademarked for use on shirts or other merchandise outside of very, very special circumstances.