Trademark in Politics

The last Presidential race had a side drama. No, it wasn’t another scandal. Politics has been a great place for IP watching. There have been infringement claims over use of songs and photos in political campaigns. Slogan phrases were not immune.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used former President Ronald Reagan’s famous slogan, “Peace Through Strength,” to reflect his stance on national defense. The American Security Council Foundation secured a trademark for the slogan and sued the Center for Security Policy over use of the slogan in the Center’s literature and fundraising initiatives for Mitt Romney.

Trademark law certainly permits for protection of slogans. Trademark rights can be granted where a slogan has acquired a “secondary meaning” or distinctiveness apart from its original meaning so long as that distinctiveness identifies the slogan with the source of a particular product or service. Put more simply, hearing the slogan should immediately trigger in the mind of the listener the particular source of the slogan. That trigger must happen without mention of any product or service. It must be an automatic association. It is not actually important that the listener know what the source is. What is necessary is that the listener knows that slogan is associated with one particular source, even if they don’t what that source is.

Another interesting point about slogans is that it doesn’t matter who invented the slogan or was the first to use it; what matters is who was first to use the slogan in a source identifying manner.

IP protection can be important for many things, including things you do not even envision at the time. The future uses of your work can hardly be known. Protecting your rights gives you options and preserves your rights for the future, whatever that holds.