Protecting slogans as trademarks: how and why

Although not impossible, seeking trademark protection for slogans in the European Union can prove difficult. While some slogans have achieved success, most are unlikely to meet the requirements for trademark registration. What can be learned from those slogans that have achieved success?

Slogans are memorable mottos, phrases or taglines used in advertising and for promoting a brand. Generally used alongside the main brand identifier, e.g. the company name, they can help companies to build brand identity, and yet are rarely considered distinctive enough on their own to be registered as a trademark. Registration is possible, however, as Nike’s ‘JUST DO IT’ and McDonald’s ‘I’M LOVIN’ IT’ trademarks show.

Why register a slogan as a trademark

The right slogan can add significant value to a brand. Businesses understandably wish to protect that value, and the marketing efforts and resources involved in its creation. However, in order to successfully obtain trademark protection for a slogan, the standard criteria for trademark registration still needs to be fulfilled, in that it must:

  • Be available for registration in the chosen class, i.e. the same or a similar slogan must not have been already registered in the class or jurisdiction for the same or similar group of services;
  • Not be too ‘descriptive’: if the trademark is too descriptive of the goods or services or any characteristics of them, then the trademark office will likely object to the mark;
  • Be ‘distinctive’: the more distinctive the wording used, the more likely it will be that the trademark will be awarded protection by the relevant register.

It is this final requirement that can often pose the greatest hurdle for brand owners seeking to register their slogans as trademarks. The EUIPO is especially strict when it comes to trademark protection for slogans, and such marks must first and foremost be distinctive. In other words, laudatory, common phrases are unlikely to achieve registration in the EU.

Easily memorable

It was previously held that slogans by the very nature were not distinctive enough to function as trademarks. However, Audi’s seven-year battle to register its ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ slogan (‘advantage through technology’) at the EUIPO, marked a change in this view. In its 2010 ruling, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) held that an advertising slogan can have the necessary distinctive character needed to constitute a trademark, if it is seen as more than an ordinary advertising slogan. The CJEU also advised that if the slogan is easily memorable, imaginative, surprising, unexpected, or is a play-on-words, it will have the necessary distinctive character to be regarded as a trademark.

Acquired distinctiveness

Kit Kat’s ‘HAVE A BREAK’ slogan also overcame the hurdle of being non-distinctive, but in this case it was due to its long-standing use. In this instance, the CJEU confirmed that use of the slogan in conjunction with the registered ‘KIT KAT’ trademark is possible if the mark has acquired its own distinctiveness, through use. In response, Nestlé filed substantial evidence demonstrating the distinctiveness of the slogan, as use of the advertising slogan dated back to the 1950s.

Thus, a good advertising campaign showing substantial use over a number of years will help to overcome the hurdle of a slogan that is otherwise descriptive and non-distinctive, if the mark has acquired distinctiveness. However, short intense marketing campaigns for several months are unlikely to be enough to evidence this.

Designing slogans with trademarks in mind

A promotional slogan can also be considered registrable as a trademark in the EU if it indicates commercial origin. We recommend opting for unique, distinctive, catchy phrases that are easily distinguishable to allow consumers to identify the source of the goods or services.

If you are looking to register a slogan, please contact us for tailored advice.

Insights liés

JUB

La feuille de route de la juridiction unifiée du brevet (JUB)

La Juridiction unifiée du brevet (JUB) est officiellement lancée depuis le 1er juin 2023. Grâce à cette feuille de route, parcourez aisément l'actualité de la JUB et son évolution, au travers des articles de décryptage de nos experts. Retrouvez ci-dessous nos publications pour suivre les spécificités de la JUB en temps réel afin de mieux comprendre les conséquences associées et déterminer votre stratégie de protection en Europe.

La feuille de route de la juridiction unifiée du brevet (JUB)
Blog Nova IP Hour

Reconnaissance des ressources génétiques et des savoirs traditionnels associés pour plus de transparence !

Des ressources génétiques, longtemps transmises oralement, sont maintenant utilisées dans diverses inventions des sciences de la vie. Cela soulève des inquiétudes quant à l'octroi de brevets injustifiés en raison d'un manque de transparence. L'OMPI travaille sur un texte international pour encadrer ces ressources. Une conférence à Genève en mai 2024 vise à finaliser ces négociations, en particulier deux mesures clés liées à l'obligation des déposants. Lire la suite

Par Matthieu Boulard,
Reconnaissance des ressources génétiques et des savoirs traditionnels associés pour plus de transparence !

Pour plus d'informations ou de conseils contactez-nous