(Reuters) - Ideas were flying at a brainstorming session to create a slogan for North Carolina county Democrats when Catherine Cloud blurted out a phrase that made a colleague’s eyes light up: “Because this is America.”
The words were quickly scrawled on a notepad and the New Hanover County Democratic Party in Wilmington, North Carolina, began its scramble to own the phrase - applying just days later for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
From President Donald Trump’s dash to own “Keep America Great” for his 2020 re-election campaign even before he took office to a rush by a foundation for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to claim “Let’s Roll” just days after New York’s Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, Americans rushing to trademark catchy phrases.
There were 391,837 trademark applications filed last year, with the number growing an average of 5 percent annually, government reports show. The USPTO does not break out how many of those applications were for phrases.
The upsurge is the result of headline-grabbing cases like socialite Paris Hilton’s winning settlement of a lawsuit over her trademarked catch-phrase “That’s Hot” from her former television reality show, said trademark attorney Howard Hogan of Washington.
“It can’t help but inspire others,” Hogan said. “It feels good to get recognition of something you feel you have created.”
Trademarks can mean cash from everything from bumper stickers to thongs printed with the protected phrase. More importantly for some, however, is claiming ownership of a powerful message.
“‘Because this is America’ is a rallying cry that focuses on what we have in common, rather than what divides us,” Cloud said.
The phrase is the tagline in a commercial set for online release on Thursday about the New Hanover Democrats’ key issues: “Clean water. Because this is America,” “Quality education for every child. Because this is America,” “No matter your ethnicity, you are welcome here. Because this is America.”
Mindful that the slogan that could easily be employed by rival Republicans, the county Democratic committee filed to trademark it just 18 days after Cloud’s saying it.
Two days before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, Donald J. Trump for President Inc applied to trademark the phrase he said he intends to use for his 2020 re-election campaign: “Keep America Great,” both with and without an exclamation point. The campaign committee already owns the trademark for Trump’s 2016 slogan: “Make America Great Again.”
Just 15 days after Todd Beamer inspired fellow airline passengers to overwhelm hijackers above a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, the Todd M. Beamer Memorial Foundation applied to trademark his rallying cry “Let’s Roll.”
Three days after “Nasty Woman” grabbed headlines when Trump used it to describe his opponent Hilary Clinton in an Oct. 19, 2016 debate, entrepreneurs across America started filing trademark applications for the phrase. There are at least 11 applications pending to trademark “Nasty Woman” for the sale of products as wide-ranging as pillows, wine, firearms, scented body spray, mugs, backpacks and jewelry.
Typically it takes about 18 months for the Patent Office to grant a trademark.
But it can take much longer, as cartoonist Bob Mankoff of The New Yorker learned when he tried to trademark the caption to a 1993 cartoon. Two decades passed before he was allowed to register it on Jan. 19, 2016.
Ironically, the phrase aptly describes Mankoff’s anticipated payday from the sale of merchandise bearing the words that first appeared under his cartoon of a businessman trying to schedule a meeting: “How about never - is never good for you?”
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler