5 Reasons for Trademark Denials During Pandemics

As promised in our last newsletter, we discuss in this article five reasons the USPTO denies trademarks related to pandemics. Pandemics create many emotions, drive, and perceived opportunities, causing people and organizations to apply for trademarks. However, many reasons exist as to why they do not work out. Click “Read More” to discover five reasons for denied trademarks.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with other unprecedented events in 2020, affected people worldwide. As such, the USPTO experienced heightened trademark applications, especially regarding the pandemic. While many people envisioned monetary benefits with the potential approval of a granted trademark, the USPTO will likely deny or has already denied trademarks associated with the global pandemic. The following lists five common reasons the USPTO denies trademark applications regarding universal events, such as pandemics:

  • It is offensive: One of the reasons so many people rush to file for trademarks of a new term, even the name of a pandemic, is because there is much hype surrounding it. However, pandemics cause fear and an overall negative connotation. Nobody wants to be reminded of a terrible and fearful time, especially one that causes human loss. COVID has affected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, causing death, hardship, and so much more. Therefore, it is likely that a trademark application pertaining to a pandemic will be denied based on ethical reasons.
  • It is not tied to a specific product or service: Trademarks are meant to help consumers differentiate products and cut down on search costs. As such, many of the trademarks applied for regarding the pandemic do not promote a specific product that helps consumers differentiate said product from others. Rather, people want to use words associated with the pandemic to place on items such as hats, cups, shirts, and the like. But, the words do not make the products a unique, distinctive brand because they are commonplace.
  • Misconception exists that the first to file “wins”: Many people rush to file a trademark associated with global events before they even know what they will use it for or without the intent to use it because they think that the first to file will win the trademark. However, in the United States, the first to use wins the trademark, as long as certain criteria is met. Therefore, without the intent to use or prove use, the USPTO will certainly deny the trademark application.
  • Pandemics do not last forever: As with everything in life, nothing lasts forever, including a pandemic. As such, the hype eventually dies down and the event becomes an afterthought before long. People move on to other events, concerns, and changes in life. Therefore, terms associated with big events such as a pandemic begin to wan and fewer people talk about them. People get bored eventually and the words don’t hold as much significance once the shock factor dies down and the fear subsides. Even if the USPTO were to approve a trademark, the pandemic could well be over. Many people who file for trademarks during a pandemic plan to use those terms for marketing purposes only during the pandemic. However, the purpose of a trademark is to stand the test of time, not just a certain timeframe. A trademark is distinctive.
  • The term is too common or generic: It is difficult to trademark words and phrases associated with a pandemic because trademarks are meant to differentiate products or services. It is especially difficult when such events are global affairs because everyone uses the terms, making it impossible to tie those terms to a specific product or service. Rather, people think about the actual pandemic from which those terms originated. As such, anytime people see, speak, or hear the terms, they think about the events behind them, not a product or service. Therefore, they become generic and commonplace terms, which cannot be trademarked.

The trademark process takes effort, time, and money. Essentially, it is risky to file for something that is likely not to grant. Pandemics involve negative connotations including death, fear, financial hardships, and even changes in livelihood. Therefore, on a social and moral level, applying for trademarks to capitalize on a deadly pandemic is likely a waste of time.