Can You Trademark a Sound?

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office will now allow sounds to be trademarked after a twenty-year legal battle with movie giant MGM.  The studio wanted to trademark the lion’s roar heard at the end of its films.

Under U.S. trademark law, you also can trademark a sound.  For instance, NBC’s three-tone chime has been registered as a service mark. The Pillsbury “giggle” is also trademarked (additional examples can be found on the USPTO website).

Like all trademarks, sound must serve to identify the source or trade origin of a product or service.  The validity of a sound as a trademark “depends on [the] aural perception of the listener which may be as fleeting as the sound itself unless, of course, the sound is so inherently different or distinctive that it attaches to the subliminal mind of the listener to be awakened when heard and to be associated with the source or event with which it struck.” Accortding to the trademark office In re General Electric Broadcasting Co., 199 USPQ 560, 563 (T.T.A.B. 1978).

The standard is fairly high, and the United States Trademark Office has approved only several hundred sound trademarks. Harley Davidson famously withdrew its application to register a mark on the sound made by the roar of its V-Twin engine after several competitors argued that the sound was not distinguishable from the sound of similar engines.

While the trademark process is similar to that of a standard character mark or stylized/design mark, the description must be accompanied by an audio or video reproduction of the sound.

How Can I Help?

Of course, this post only offers a brief discussion of the legal issues involved in filing a sound trademark. If you need help to trademark your unique sound, file a patent or copyright, foreign or domestic, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation by sending me an email or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +


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