When a company offering a service or a product can be recognized by consumers by a sound or a few melodic notes, that company can apply for a federal trademark registration.
Given that the primary purpose of trademark law is to allow consumers to view a trademark on a product or advertisement and know what company produced that product or advertisement, it makes sense that trademark law evolved to allow companies to register trademarks that are sounds.
One of the oldest, and perhaps the oldest, registered trademark at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a sound is the three note NBC chimes trademark. NBC applied to register their famous three note trademark in 1970 and the United States Patent and Trademark Office registered the trademark in 1971. The trademark registration for NBC’s sound trademark states “The mark comprises of the musical notes G, E, C played on chimes.”
Trademark Registration Certificate issued July 13, 1971 for their chimes trademark, i.e. "THE MUSICAL NOTES G, E, C PLAYED ON CHIMES"
Other famous sound trademarks include the MGM lion roar before their films, ESPN’s SportsCenter intro music, and the Looney Tunes theme song. Essentially, any company that uses a sound or song so often and repeatedly that it becomes distinctively and uniquely associated with that company, they can file for a trademark registration for the sound with the USPTO.
As part of the trademark application process, applicants for sound marks need to submit an audio recording of their sound, and either explain how consumers encounter their sound trademark or show a video of the sound trademark being used. For example, NBC can submit a specimen of their three note trademark and show it being used at the beginning or the end of one of their programs.
A non-exhaustive list of other registered sound trademarks can be found here at the USPTO website. However, it does not appear that the list has been updated since 2004.
The most common trademark examples are still words, logos, and slogans. However, in addition to sound trademarks, the USPTO accepts trademark applications for colors and scents. The unique trademarks often have higher burdens to meet to receive trademark registration than traditional trademarks, but companies with unique sounds, colors or scents should not shy away from filing for a trademark registration for their special trademarks with the USPTO.
There is no reason to rely solely on common law trademark rights when it comes to sound trademarks. Common law trademark rights are limited, especially when it comes to special trademarks such as sounds or scents, which makes it even more important to file a trademark application to receive the full benefits of owning a USPTO trademark registration.
Can you think of any sounds you associated with a company or brand? Leave it in the comments below and Granite Trademark Services will conduct a trademark search to see if that company has a trademark registration for their sound.
If you have any questions about sound trademarks, or want to register your company or brand’s own unique sound with the USPTO, contact us today for a Free Trademark Consultation and one of our trademark attorneys will get back to you within twenty-four hours.