I didn't think you could but people are saying OWS trademarked an idea and a movement. Is it possible to trademark an idea or a movement?
You cannot trademark or copyright an idea. If you put a name on an idea and attach that name to a product or service, names on products or services can be trademarked (or obtain a service mark.)
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Ideas are generally not protectable via intellectual property rights. Patents protect one's right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing an invention. Trademarks are words, designs, or symbols that are used in trade with goods/services to indicate the source of those goods/services and to distinguish them from the goods/services of others. Copyright law provides protection to authors of “original works of authorship” fixed in a tangible form of expression, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. See below link for more information on these various types of intellectual property rights.
Notice: This answer is for educational and informational purposes only, is not a reflection on or a representation of any views or opinions held by my employer, and should not be construed as legal advice. Nothing herein is meant to create an attorney-client relationship.
Q: "Is it possible to trademark an idea or a movement?"
You may have heard that at least two applications to federally register as a trademark the phrase "Occupy Wall Street" have been filed. The links below provide information about those applications. To read the Trademark Office's rationale for refusing to register the phrase as a trademark click on the "Trademark Document Retrieval" link and then the "Office Action Outgoing" linkf and read that Office Action.
The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
"Idea" is WAY too broad a term to allow for any answer to this question. Everything starts as an idea so I don't think it's proper to state that an idea can not be trademarked. I think there are examples of trademarks (or trade dress...same thing) that are ideas. Cabbage Patch Kids (the idea of dolls with birth certificates, etc.), the "format" of the New York Toy Show, a parade of ducks marching daily into a fountain at a certain hotel...there are many more "things" that can be rightfully called ideas that are trademarks. You should have given an example of an idea that you had in mind.
It depends on how you define "idea," but generally speaking, trademark protection is not available for abstract concepts that are not connected with the sale of goods or services. That is because trademarks are used in commerce as source-identifiers. That is, trademarks are words, phrases, symbols, designs, or combinations thereof, which identify and distinguish the source of the goods or services of one seller from those of others. In other words, trademarks help consumers identify where (i.e. from what company or merchant) the product or service is coming from.
Thus, the people attempting to register the phrase "Occupy Wall Street" cannot simply register the "idea" of Occupy Wall Street. Rather they are required to provide the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with an identification of goods. That is, they have to tell the folks at the PTO which products and/or services they are offering or intend to offer under the mark "Occupy Wall Street."
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