This is part two of the series on un-conventional trademarks.  In this post, we’ll look at trademarked sounds.  Yes, it’s possible to trademark a sound.  It’s called sound branding.

 

Even though it’s very difficult to protect a sound as a trademark, sounds are increasingly used to help brands stand out in the marketplace. Part of the requirement for getting a sound trademark is being able to describe it in such as way that proves it’s unique. NBC was one of the first companies to get a sound trademark in 1978 for it’s “chimes” (musical notes played in a certain sequence).  On the other hand,  Harley Davidson tried for six years to get its famous engine sound trademarked. The problem was it couldn’t describe its engine sound in a way that set it apart from other motorcycle engines.

Adding sound expands your brand identity to other customer senses. Sounds connects to the consumer on an emotional level and conveys a sense of your brand, whether it’s romantic, sensual, family friendly or luxurious, without spoken words or seeing a picture.  It makes your brand more memorable (especially in this age of shortened attention spans) and stand out from the competition.

Both distinctive sounds, like a siren, or common sounds such as a dog barking, can be trademarked, but it often requires associating them with something else, such as an image, to qualify for registration. If you’ve been to the movies, and heard the MGM lion’s roar, or the THX “Deep Note” for its sound system before the movie starts, then what you’ve heard are both trademarks.

Technology companies are also using sounds, such as Intel’s 5 note ding/3 second chord sequence used with the Pentium processor, the spoken letters “AT&T” with a music background, and Nokia’s default ring tone are all trademarks.  Other examples include AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail”, and the Apple MAC startup tone.

You’ll even hear trademarked sounds for some well-known consumer product brands including the Pillsbury Doughboys’ unique giggle (produced when Pop’n Fresh is poked in the stomach), the General Mills “Ho, Ho, Ho, Green Giant” sound, and the American Family Life Assurance Company duck quacking the word “AFLAC”.

One company that’s making it easier for you to research and register a sound is Trademarkia.  It  launched a sound trademark service where you can listen to existing trademarks and apply for your own.

As technology continues to spread sound capabilities in everything from phones to wearable devices,  the use and trademarking of sounds to create a brand experience will continue to increase. Internationally, several countries have amended their trademark laws to include sounds, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Australia.   If you use a unique sound to identify your company or product, it might be worth investing some time and money to trademark it.

See if you can guess these famous trademarks by their sounds (answers at end of this blog):

# 1.

# 2.

#3.

#4

 

If you’d like to hear more trademark sounds, click this link to the USPTO website.



Answers

1.20th Century Fox Studios

2. Intel

3. Harlem Globetrotters

4. Warner Bros. Looney Tunes

 

Mr. Brenner has over 30 years IP management and licensing experience with various industries including consumer products, food, entertainment, software,health technology, medical devices and digital media. He has led international licensing programs as both licensee and licensor, and through consulting projects focused on strategy and management, outbound / inbound licensing initiatives, and IP audits and due diligence.. He has developed and managed deals with Fortune 1000 companies including Universal Studios, Fox Interactive, Sony Pictures, Dow, Cargill, SmithKline Glaxo, Ranir, Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Hasbro, Mattel, and others. He is a public speaker and published writer, and has taught classes at the university level. His speaking events have included UC Irvine, Tritech/SBDC, Irvine Chamber, Fast Start Studios, ICFO Investors Conference, San Diego Investment Conference, Westlaw Legal Center (NYC), National Speakers Association, and the Hong Kong FilmArt Expo. He has written several articles on licensing intellectual property which have appeared in the Licensing Journal, Intellectual Property Magazine, and License India.

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