Following a growing trend of attempts to trademark social rallying cries, two trademark applications have been submitted on “Je Suis Charlie”. Je Suis Charlie was a common slogan of support at the rallies and in social media in reference to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. It quickly became an international statement of solidarity against violence and terrorism. Like other social movement slogans before it, trademark applications quickly followed its viral spread. But like those other slogans, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is unlikely to grant a trademark registration for Je Suis Charlie.
Trademark applications on the term have been filed by a California trust and a Latin America trading company based in Florida. The trust filed in the class “promoting charitable giving”, while the trading company filed in the classes covering bags, mugs, clothing and footwear. The trust’s trademark application indicates that it has already used the phrase in commerce, while the trading company’s was filed as an intent-to-use mark.
In spite of any benevolent intentions of the trust or the more commercially minded trading company, it is unlikely that either of these trademark applications will be granted trademark registration. The purpose of a trademark is to identify the source of goods or services. Je Suis Charlie has become a common expression to convey opposition to violence and extremism. It is not likely to be deemed to function as a trademark to represent a particular good or service.
Over the past couple of years, several similar attempts have been made to obtain trademark registrations on social slogans. After the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the city of Boston rallied around the phrase “Boston Strong”. Trademark applications on the term were rejected on grounds that it did not function as a trademark. Another instance was the ALS “ice bucket challenge” that went viral this past summer. The ALS Association filed a trademark application on the term, but quickly abandoned it after receiving significant public backlash.
While there may be some situations where exclusive control over a term might help ensure that the term is used appropriately and with respect, in situations where a term is adopted by a large community and used to rally support for a positive cause, it is probably not a good idea to attempt to obtain trademark registration on the term. It is likely to be viewed as unpopular and the trademark application is likely to be rejected by the USPTO. Trademarks function best when they are used as devices to identify the source of goods or services, not to exclusively capture a widely used term.