By: Briana Seaton-Adams
A social movement is essentially a sustained campaign in support of a social goal which implements or prevents a change in society’s structure or values. From the Civil Rights Movement, to the waves of feminism, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, social movements have been integral in America’s history and progress. In 2017, Actor Alyssa Milano urged survivors of sexual assault to use the words “Me Too” on Twitter, with no idea of where it came from. In just a few weeks, the hashtag was used over 12 million times. Soon after, those two words burst into the spotlight of social media with #metoo, a hashtag promoted by Milano. Recognizing the virality of the hashtag, women of color hurriedly pointed out that the true creator of the “me too” movement was by Ms. Tarana Burke, who is black, had not received support over the years from prominent white feminists.
The USPTO has not been receptive to trademark registrations of phrases arising from social movements. The main reason for this opposition is that the purpose of a trademark is to preserve the ability of consumers to identify and distinguish a particular source of goods or services. In contrast, if the proposed trademark is merely an informational, social, political, or religious message, it fails to function as a trademark. As an example, of the 15 trademarks to register Black Lives Matter, 7 were refused, 6 are awaiting examination, and 2 were approved but are not registered (Black Lives Matter Too; Black Lives Matter To Me).
This matters because individuals and businesses seek to capitalize on the social movements they create, especially when these movements have become “viral”. Others, like 17-year-old Greta Thunberg, seek to protect their movement to prevent people who may try to use the mark for purposes not in line with what the movement stands for. While social movements are generally difficult to trademark, Sybrina Fulton, mother of slain teen Trayvon Martin, trademarked “I am Trayvon” in 2014 for a foundation in his honor which lives to this day.