A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase used to identify particular products. Think of Nike and their swoosh. Common words and phrases can be trademarked by companies or individuals if the entity submitting the request can prove that the meaning of the phrase has a distinctive second meaning. Here are seven examples of individuals who have successfully turned their catchphrase into a trademark "“ and often, a hefty profit.
In 1988, Pat Riley and his Los Angeles Lakers were headed for a third consecutive NBA championship. The team started to use the term "three-peat" to describe their ultimate goal. Coach Riley claims the term originated from player Byron Scott. During the season, Riley registered the phrase as a trademark for use on merchandise. The Lakers' third championship attempt was thwarted by the Pistons in 1989, but the Chicago Bulls accomplished the feat in 1993. Riley was able to slam-dunk all the way to the bank when the Bulls opted to use the phrase for championship merchandise.
In 2005, a group of USC students were anticipating a third consecutive BCS championship and attempted to trademark the phrase "Three-Pete." The misspelling was created not only to avoid paying Riley for use of the phrase, but also to pay homage to coach Pete Carroll. The federal trademark board ruled that the spelling difference was not enough to differentiate it from Riley's three-peat. When a student started to sell his own "Three-Pete" shirts he was served with copyright infringement notification. And, just like Riley, USC did not succeed in reaching a three-peat.
"Let's Get Ready to Rumble!"
Michael Buffer, the boxing and wrestling announcer well-known for his booming voice and classic catchphrase, holds the trademark to this phrase, which he started using in the 1980s. By 1992 he had a federally registered trademark for it. The move turned out to be profitable, as Buffer has used the phrase for songs, video games, and lottery commercials. Always the entrepreneur, Buffer licensed the phrase to New York City taxicabs in the late 1990s for use in a welcome message, voiced by Buffer himself, encouraging riders to buckle their seatbelt before exclaiming "Let's get ready to rumble.... for SAFETY!"
Buffer even appeared in a commercial for Kraft cheese and oh-so-cleverly changed the phrase to "Lets get ready to crumble!" for the company's pre-packaged cheese crumbles. Surprisingly, Buffer has spared incarnations of the phrase involving many rhyming words. Look out fumble, bumble, stumble, humble, et. al.
There have been at least 17 approved applications to trademark the phrase "Let's roll" since September 11, 2001. Heroic Choices, the charitable organization formerly known as the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, trademarked the phrase in order to sell merchandise with proceeds going to the charity. But 16 additional claims were granted to other companies, for use on other types of merchandise including rolling back packs, roller sports, soft pretzels, paint rollers, metal building materials and tapes. Even Rolling Rock beer offers you to "Let's roll... and rock with Rolling Rock." An applicant using the name "Let's Roll Freedom Fighters" trademarked the phrase for use on just about anything you can buy in a gift shop; mouse pads, lighters, key chains and gun cases.
Heiress Paris Hilton popularized her catchphrase "that's hot" on her hit reality show The Simple Life. She was the subject of media scrutiny when she applied for a trademark for the simple and relatively common phrase. She was granted three trademarks in 2007: one for use in men and women's clothing, another for electronic devices and a third for alcoholic beverages. She has used the phrase to promote a canned version of an Italian sparkling wine called Rich Prosecco.
Later in 2007, Hilton announced plans to sue Hallmark for using her image and trademarked phrase on a greeting card. Hallmark claims that the card is fair game because it is parody; Hilton feels her rights have been violated. Currently, it is unclear if the case will go to court.
Emeril Lagasse's "Emeril's Food of Love" company owns the right to the phrase "Bam!" for its use on just about anything you can find in a drawer or cabinet in your kitchen: pans, pots, spatulas and tongs. There are numerous other claims to the phrase, including one by Jackass star Bam Margera and one by the EasyOff company for their cleaning products of the same name, but only Emeril's uses an exclamation point.
"Goodnight my sweet Anna baby"
Larry Birkhead, the father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's daughter Dannielynn, trademarked this phrase for its use in movies, books, television programs and stage plays. The phrase was used heavily by the media during coverage of Smith's death. Birkhead claims the phrase is what the late Smith wanted to hear every night before she went to sleep, and Birkhead included the line in a poem on his website following her passing.
While Birkhead claims he never filed for the trademark, it is registered in his name. His former attorney, Debra Opri, claims that she advised him to trademark the phrase to "protect himself" because "You don't want someone else to take advantage of something he said internationally -- after he said it in court and then on one of the TV shows, it became famous." Given all of the people who have tried to earn a profit from Smith's death, it was probably a smart move.
"They are who we thought they were"
Normally quiet Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green first uttered this trademarked phrase during a swear-filled, post-game tirade in 2006. When he was asked what he thought of the Chicago Bears after his team dropped a 20-point lead during a Monday Night Football game, Green responded "they are who we thought they were." There is another part to the quote "and we let em' off the hook!" that is not part of the trademark. Green exclusively owns the right to use the phrase for sports merchandise, but the clip is a sports media standard that is used when teams fail to take advantage of their opponent's obvious flaws.
Caroline Donnelly is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.