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Someone Is Trying to Trademark the "Black Lives Matter" Tagline

26 requests have already been filed in the United States

Someone Is Trying to Trademark the Black Lives Matter Tagline 26 requests have already been filed in the United States
Laurent Bentil

Since May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was killed on the street by a Minneapolis police officer, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has already received 26 requests to trademark the taglines "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe". Far from the U.S., similar issues have also been taken place in the rest of the world: 8 in the United Kingdom, for the moment only one in the rest of Europe. Just as it happened a few months ago with Coronavirus merchandising, there are those who have expressed the desire to register the brand to sponsor educational projects and services, but also those who want to exploit the movement for the production of objects themed like t-shirts, mugs and even bottles of wine. 

According to data reported by Bloomberg, 19 proposals have already been made from 2014 to 2017. The first one dates back to 2014, to the episode that marked the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement: the death of Eric Garner, an African American from Staten Island assassinated by a police officer in New York (recently also remembered by Spike Lee in his short film in support of the BLM). Already at the time, the patent office categorically refused. Most recently, Breaking Games LLC (a division of AdMagic, the production company specialized in card games) in June tried to record "Black Lives Matter" for the production of a board game; before sending it, it was his parent company AdMagic who blocked the project. Likewise, Stacey Stokes, an American wine producer, in June proposed the registration of a "#BlackLivesMatter Moscato" and a red wine called "#SayHerName", in memory of another African American woman killed by a police officer. Stokes' idea is to produce a wine dedicated to the empowerment of black women, also guaranteeing part of the profits to the groups against police brutality and more generally to all the organizations in support of the Black Lives Matter, but also, in this case, the authorization has not arrived yet.

For now, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been categorical in rejecting any proposals. The recent history of the United States, however, shows that it is not that impossible to trademark political slogans: the election campaign held by President Donald Trump, symbolized by the "MAGA" ("Make America Great Again") red caps, testifies that yes, it is possible to deposit an ideology. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office justified itself by claiming that Trump's slogan can be registered because it can be traced back to a specific source, a detail that would make it impossible to register the slogan of a movement that has its basis not in a specific individual, but in the vast response of the public.

The filing of a trademark, on the other hand, is linked to a broader discourse on the protection of intellectual property, which is currently one of the most divisive subjects of Law. From a less ideological point of view, however, registering a trademark means to set economic boundaries to its industrial property: the registered trademarks, in fact, mainly serve to identify a good or service and to prevent its confusion with other similar ones present on the market. The nature of the BLM movement is not only political but above all civil: this leads us to ask ourselves if it is really appropriate to even make such proposals. 

Regardless of the legitimacy of the matter, these proposals demonstrate the power achieved by the movement not only in the United States but also in the rest of the world. Along with the movements on the streets, in fact, the response of the industry has been one of the most active that has ever been seen: from the posts on Instagram of the big fashion brands to the decision to add introductory signs to films such as Gone with the Wind and Walt Disney's The Jungle Book, or even the most recent motion to remove the reference to plantations in the official name of the state of Rhode Island, the Black Lives Matter is an unprecedented cultural movement. As such, it would be good to be careful before monopolizing it.