Trademark System Bias

Welcome to a series about the threat and impact of questionable trademarks.
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Can ASL Be Trademarked?

It’s not uncommon for creatives to wrongly assume they invented or coined their artistic expressions.

For example, a certain rock star wanted to register this hand gesture.

(I’ll bet you already know in American Sign Language it’s called “ILY” and means “I love you.”)

The rocker apparently doesn’t know ASL and thought he came up with it himself.

I am not making this up.

Happily the Washington Post noticed the application and announced it to the world less than a week after it was filed.

The applicant filed an express abandonment 5 days later.

But let’s not judge him harshly.

I am reminded of my first “really original” shirt idea. I’ll even tell you the gory details:

Doing keyword research, I stumbled across a shirt that had a pretty good rank, but tons of competition. “Hey!” I thought, “I can make that even better by combining it with the ___ niche! And thus my “original” idea for a clever expression was born.

After spending two days on this design, including hand-drawn graphics (I’m self-taught, remember), I thought I should check for IP infringement before uploading. I looked on TESS, and yippee there were no trademarks pending or registered for the phrase.

Next, I checked Amazon. There were over 100 listings with the same phrase. No joke. I was so disappointed!

Well, I uploaded my design anyway, because the graphics were hand-drawn and I knew there’d be no copycat issues. I sell a few each month.

Here’s the point: it’s easy to think that, because I’ve never seen my idea elsewhere, it’s totally my “brand.” But even if I had coined the expression, or even if I “make it famous” among my followers, that doesn’t make it a source indicator.