7 unusual trademark battles

From Trump's catch phrase to Google's specs

1. Adidas' attempt to 'own all stripes'

Adidas shoes

(Image credit: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Adidas lost a trademark battle against American designer Thom Browne for his "three-stripe" logo. The athletic company argued that Browne sold athletic apparel that was "basically the same" as its own, so consumers would get confused because both logos feature three parallel lines, writes Bloomberg Law. Browne's attorney argued the case wasn't about "confusion" but about whether Adidas should be allowed to "own all stripes." In the end, the court decided the answer was no. Adidas said it was "disappointed with the verdict," but would "continue to vigilantly enforce our intellectual property, including filing any appropriate appeals."

2. Google's 'glass'

Google tried to trademark the word "glass" back in 2015 when it launched its erstwhile brand of smart glasses, Google Glass. The company was able to obtain a trademark for "Google Glass," but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said the word "glass" was too generic and could easily be confused. Google responded by sending an almost 2,000-page letter refuting the Trademark Office's points and arguing that their "glass" did not actually contain glass at all. Google Glass was discontinued just two years after launch.

3. 'THE' Ohio State University

The Ohio State University, or Ohio State, tried to trademark the word "THE" in 2019. The university has always emphasized "THE" in its name and wanted to use the word to create merchandise, and specifically connect it to the university. However, trademarking one of the most used words in the English language just for some t-shirts was no easy feat. "Just putting the word 'THE' on the front of a hat or on the front of a shirt is not sufficient trademark use," explained trademark lawyer Josh Gerben. In a plot twist, though, Ohio State actually earned the trademark in 2022, making it the only entity that can sell "THE" branded clothing.

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4. LeBron James wants 'Taco Tuesday'

NBA star LeBron James filed to trademark the term "Taco Tuesday" in 2019, in an attempt to "ensure LeBron cannot be sued for any use of 'Taco Tuesday,'" according to James' spokesperson Dave McMenamin. James was not granted the trademark because the phrase "is a commonplace term, message, or expression widely used by a variety of sources that merely conveys an ordinary, familiar, well-recognized concept or sentiment message," the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office wrote. The outcome of the case effectively prevents anybody from being sued for using the phrase for business reasons, per ESPN. Taco Tuesday is "used by various parties to express enthusiasm for tacos by promoting and celebrating them on a dedicated weekday."

5. Sarah Palin trademarks her name

Sarah Palin gives thumbs up to a crowd

(Image credit: Cheryl Gerber/Getty Images)

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol Palin both successfully filed to trademark their names in 2011 for "educational and entertainment services" as well as "motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business, and values," per their application. "Essentially, what they are doing is trying to commercialize themselves," said Neil Friedman, a New York trademark attorney. It's not very common for politicians to trademark their names, but since Sarah Palin became a bit of a celebrity after leaving office, Time explained that the move to trademark her name was similar to "the way someone like Calvin Klein might trademark his."

6. The McTrademark

McDonald's tried more than once to trademark the "Mc" prefix. In 2012, it was granted the trademark, but in 2019 the company lost some of its rights following a lawsuit by Irish company Supermac's, which owns 100 fast food restaurants in Ireland, BBC reported. Supermac's filed a complaint to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) arguing that McDonald's hadn't shown "genuine use" of the trademark in the years after it was granted. McDonald's kept the trademark for its nuggets and some of its sandwiches, but lost it for coffee and other products. "We have rid Europe of the McDonald's self-styled monopoly of the term Mc," said the founder of Supermac's, Pat McDonagh.

7. Trumped by a boardgame

In 2004, Donald Trump tried to trademark the phrase "You're fired!" The quote comes from Trump's former reality show, The Apprentice. His attempt was unsuccessful because the U.S. Trademark Office determined that the phrase was too easily confused with the "You're Hired" trademark for an educational board game from Franklin Learning, per The New York Times. The result brought relief to Susan Brenner, owner of the You're Fired pottery studio near Chicago. "To me, it's a livelihood. To him, it's a slogan," Brenner said.

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