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Can common words be intellectual property?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2019 | Intellectual Property

Artists and businesses of all kinds here in New York have to take care that their work isn’t misused or stolen. If they don’t, they could experience significant financial loss. Sometimes, larger companies and businesses can make matters difficult for artists and business owners who do not have the same level of means. Putting a trademark on one’s intellectual property may be the best way to protect a product or artwork. However, some larger companies and organizations are attempting to trademark small, common words, which could have significant impact on many people.

Two different entities, fashion designer Marc Jacobs and Ohio State University, have filed a trademark for the word “the.” Marc Jacobs’ application was filed first and thus will have priority, though it is still under review. If the fashion label has its claim approved, OSU may have to take extra measures to enable its own right to use the word.

Though this sounds unbelievable, most people won’t be affected day to day. Even if the trademark holder believes someone has violated its intellectual property, it will be responsible for bringing any claims forward. A violation would include something that the holder argues may cause consumer confusion. It isn’t the first time that someone has attempted to trademark a common phrase — reality star Kim Kardashian recently came under fire for trying to trademark the word “kimono” for use with a shapewear line she intended to sell.

A trademark claim like this one might not have an impact on the average person, but it could be potentially damaging to an artist or a business who may not have the means to make an opposing claim. This shows just how important it is for artists to ensure that their intellectual property is protected. An attorney here in New York may be the best resource for those who have questions regarding the process.