Can I Trademark a Sentence in Literature?

Asked about 1 year ago - Brooklyn, NY

The sentence is from a book of poems I wrote years ago: "The future is (word)." There is an existing 2008 trademark, in banking, according to one search tool, for two sentences together: "I am the future. The future is (word)." I wish to trademark only the second sentence, for general use. I wrote this sentence in 1973--though I can only document year 2000--and have noticed its increasing use in commercials, etc. I would like to profit from the fruits of my labor if at all possible. Additional searches show the second sentence has not been trademarked as a stand-alone sentence.

Attorney answers (6)

  1. Andrew Endicott Schrafel

    Contributor Level 14

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    Answered . "I wrote this sentence in 1973" - have you been using the phrase in commerce to denote the source of goods or services? If not, you will have no cause of action.

    Also, There is no trademark for "general use" you would have to pay for registration in every category you use your mark in.

    Trademarks are used to protect consumers from fraudulent goods/ services, not create a revenue stream for people that come up with clever phrases.

  2. Philip Leon Marcus

    Contributor Level 16

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    Answered . The only way to register a mark is to use it in commerce to mark or brand a product or service.

    Nor can you register a copyright on a single sentence. Finally, copying one sentence from a poem is an infringement.

    BTW, next time you write a poem or a collection, register at copyright.gov. Many advantages.

    Licensed in Maryland with offices in Maryland and Oregon. Information here is general, does not create a lawyer-... more
  3. Brian Kenneth Dinicola

    Contributor Level 13

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    Best Answer
    chosen by asker

    Answered . I wholly concur with the answer already given. Believe it or not "Are you ready to rumble?" which anyone attending a football or other stadium event has probably heard a few times, is a trademarked phrase, but it is in connection with the delivery of a service. Nothing in your question suggests you are planning to actually market a product or service, you just want to profit from others doing so based on your prior use of a phrase in a book. That takes you out of the realm of trademark.

    Your only other option would be copyright, but the selection in question does not seem to rise to the level of protectable expression under the copyright laws.

  4. Frank Anthony Natoli

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . I agree with the other. Yes, in theory you can trademark a sentence.

    First, however, the only way to know if a mark is available to you is to have a professional conduct a comprehensive clearance on it under both federal and common law.

    Next, and as noted, a TM identifies the source of a particular good and/or service. Further, you must be using it in commerce in order to achieve either common law holder status or a federal registration (requiring interstate commercial use).

    I will link you to some general helpful info below and suggest that you consult with a TM lawyer in private so you can fully understand the process and a best course of action for yourself. Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult.

    Best regards,
    Frank
    Natoli-Lapin, LLC
    (see Disclaimer)

    The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the... more
  5. Maurice N Ross

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . No. You are not entitled to trademark this phrase. Trademarks are designed to identify the source of goods and services. Trademark rights arise from use in interstate commerce by companies to brand their products. Your use of the sentence in a book of poems is not sufficient to constitute interstate commerce use of the phrase to brand a product or service.

    Further, you could not protect this short phrase under copyright law. Copyright law would protect your entire poem but not this phrase.

    Of course, if you started a business where you sold products (T-shirts, caps, merchandise, whatever) using this trademark to identify your business as the source of this product, the phrase could become a trademark. But as it stands now, there is no legitimate way for you to seek trademark protection.

  6. Bruce E. Burdick

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

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    Answered . The future is bleak.

    The future is Not now for you.

    You have no trademark, you have no copyright, you have no case as regards the phrase:"
    THE FUTURE IS NOW.

    You said "the future is (word)" has not been trademarked. My search indicates there are 50 active trademark registrations for that phrase.
    You think you are concealing that your phrase is THE FUTURE IS NOW.
    You are wrong, there are TWO registrations for THE FUTURE IS NOW.
    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=75765892&case...
    and
    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=77155005&case...
    That is a very trite phrase, ubiquitous in sports pep talks.

    Besides the above, and the one you mentioned:
    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=77155005&case...
    There is
    THE FUTURE IS BLACK
    THE FUTURE IS GREEN
    THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
    THE FUTURE IS OURS
    THE FUTURE IS YOURS
    THE FUTURE IS WILD
    THE FUTURE IS HERE
    THE FUTURE IS GROWNING
    etc., etc., etc.

    As I said at the outset, for you. . . THE FUTURE IS BLEAK.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is... more

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