Currently, the most powerful and widely recognized group of words in the United States is “Black Lives Matter.” But who owns the Black Lives Matter (BLM) trademark? These three words when combined instantly convey a myriad of emotions. They extend beyond any one person, viewpoint, or organization. The “Black Lives Matter” trademark is public domain. Consequently, no single entity owns exclusive rights to the phrase.
However, “Black Lives Matter” obviously has an origin. Someone at some point strung these three words together. Regardless of the origin, “Black Lives Matter” became the slogan of a civil rights movement. There are t-shirts, hashtags, a website, an organization, and so much more. But does any one person or entity own trademark rights to “Black Lives Matter?” The answer is NO while efforts continue.
Prior Attempts on the BLM Trademark
Since 2015, there have been 15 trademark applications seeking the registration of “Black Lives Matter” for various goods and services. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected every application. So, why the rejections?
In order to function as a trademark, a slogan needs to convey the source of the goods and/or services to the public. The USPTO refused to register these applications. Why? Because “Black Lives Matter,”
…conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message, it does not function as a trademark or service mark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and to identify and distinguish them from others.See Office Action of U.S. Application Serial No. 87660438.
In other words, “Black Lives Matter” is not registerable. It is a ubiquitous slogan to “raise awareness of civil rights, protest violence, and convey the message of support for the same.” Id. The USPTO determined that
“the public would not perceive the slogan ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ as source-identifying matter that identifies applicant alone as the source of the goods/services but rather [the slogan is] an expression of support for anti-violence advocates and civil rights groups.”Id.
Put more simply, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” does not identify a particular person or entity. Instead, it is an expression of support for anti-violence advocates and civil rights groups.
Impact on News Media and Protesting
The downside of this holding is that there is no control over the BLACK LIVES MATTER slogan. For example, some groups gather peacefully under the BLM brand while others exploit and tarnish the identity while engaged in violent behavior. Had the USPTO granted exclusive rights to a single entity, such as a non-profit political action group, then a rogue organization could not appropriate the BLACK LIVES MATTER brand for their own gain.
No Exclusivity to the Black Lives Matter Trademark
Ultimately, the USPTO determined that “Black Lives Matter” belongs to the movement, not to an individual person or entity. No single individual or entity may exclude others from using these words. Any organization or individual may use “Black Lives Matter.” In other words, the phrase is available to everyone. Accordingly, the “Black Lives Matter” trademark exists in the public domain.
No, short phrases in the United States are ineligible for copyright protection.
Generally not. It is considered a social movement and not a brand-identifier.
No. However, sometime acronyms can serve as trademarks. But in this case, BLM is a well-known abbreviation to BLACK LIVES MATTER. It is treated like PVC, DNA, RAM or other well-known abbreviations.
No, BLM is too short to copyright. It is in the public domain. Single words and short phrases are unprotectable as copyrights in the United States.
No one. The United States Patent & Trademark Office determined it simply describes a social movement. Therefore, it exists in the public domain.
No single organization owns the BLACK LIVES MATTER brand. Therefore, there is no such organization. However, organizations may claim they abide by and/or promote the social movement.
Use a unique trademark and then add Black Lives Matter underneath the main trademark. This conveys the purpose and directive of your mission. For example, you may engage in charitable fundraising services for causes related to activism or community organizing in the Black community. You might name it:
Black Lives Matter