‘Boston Strong’ Can’t Be Owned, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Says

by NESN Staff

April 15, 2014

Bk8-QmKCMAAvfdTTwo Emerson College students were the first to start using the “Boston Strong” motto on the T-shirts they sold to raise money for the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy, but that didn’t stop companies from trying to own the phrase.

ESPN Boston reported Tuesday that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shot down nine applications from businesses trying to obtain trademarks on “Boston Strong,” including one from Boston-based beer company Sam Adams. They decided that “because consumers are accustomed to seeing this slogan or motto commonly used in everyday speech by many different sources … the mark fails to function as a trademark.”

Boston trademark attorney Susan Mulholland said this has happened with similar phrases in the past. She said companies tried to trademark the phrase “Let’s roll” after it was reported that 9/11 plane passenger Todd Beamer used the phrase. Phrases that grow out of “newsworthy events” generally are difficult to own.

“Boston Strong is a message, it’s an attitude, and it doesn’t speak to who made the items, so no one really owns it,” Mulholland said.

The only problem with the ruling is that people can use the phrase for their own personal profit. Still, people such as Emerson students Nicholas Reynolds and Chris Dobens and Boston-based apparel company ’47 Brand used it to raise money for the One Fund, which was set up after the marathon specifically to help the victims.

Reynolds and Dobens raised $900,000 from their “Boston Strong” shirts, and ’47 Brand donated $1.4 million from sales of similar T-shirts and hats.

Photo via Twitter/@npratc

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