They Can’t Register That as a Trademark – Can They?
Ronda Rousey, the famous Mixed Martial Arts fighter, has filed several applications to register a trademark that presumably reflects her feelings about her detractors. The mark is “FTA” which, Ms. Rousey says, is an acronym for “F**k Them All.” She plans to use FTA as a trademark for goods ranging from perfume to cell phone covers to removable tattoo transfers to organizing MMA events (some of which sound more appropriate to her “Rowdy Ronda” persona than others).
By filing these applications to register FTA, Ms. Rousey may – or may not – have stepped into the middle of a legal controversy that has engulfed the world of trademark law over the last couple years, and has recently escalated.
The controversy revolves around Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act, which provides that federal registration can be denied to a trademark that
Consists of or comprises immoral…or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage…persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.
The statute does not prescribe a standard by which the Trademark Office is to determine what is or is not “immoral” or “scandalous,” or the precise point at which a particular trademark “may disparage” someone. Perhaps not surprisingly, such determinations have been more than a little inconsistent over the years. For example, the Trademark Office has both granted and denied applications for trademarks that contain the words “Heeb,” “Dago,” “Injun” and “Squaw.”
Ms. Rousey’s mark is an acronym, one letter of which stands for a word that – if spelled out – would seem to qualify as “immoral” or “scandalous” under almost anyone’s definition. Even so, the acronym will likely pass muster. In 2009 the Trademark Office rejected several applications to register “LMFAO” on grounds that it was immoral, citing the Urban Dictionary and other online sources as evidence that it stood for “Laughing My F***ing Ass Off.” But by 2011, applicants had figured out that they could sidestep this obstacle by telling the Office that the letters actually stood for “Laughing My Freaking Ass Off.” Presumably Ms. Rousey will, necessarily, employ the same tactic.
Note, by the way, that the Trademark Office had no problem with the word “ass,” having granted dozens of registrations for marks including that word. Indeed, it has already accepted 16 applications, filed by none other than Ms. Rousey, for “Do Nothing B*tch” – both with and without using the asterisk.