Who Owns the Trademark to "Boston Strong"?
In the wake of the April 15 bombings during the Boston Marathon, the phrase “Boston Strong” became a rallying cry for the city’s gritty resolve in facing the aftermath of the attack. Proving once again that no cultural meme goes unexploited, the phrase also became a popular would-be trademark. Before a week had passed, no fewer than eight applications were filed in the US Patent and Trademark Office to register BOSTON STRONG as a trademark for goods ranging from t-shirts to jewelry to beer to coffee beans.
Some commentators expressed dismay that anyone might be allowed to claim exclusive rights in a slogan that came to prominence arose under such patriotically-charged circumstances. A seldom-exercised provision of the Trademark Act permits the PTO to refuse registration to marks that “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with…institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.” Whether the phrase “Boston Strong” rises to the level of a “national symbol” remains to be seen.