Thursday, November 3, 2011

W Day! -- Trademark Searching

Tomorrow, Nov. 4, is "W Day," when the University of Washington celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Recently I was wearing something with a W and the little TM, and a friend asked, incredulously, "Can they really trademark the letter W?"

Yes, indeed they can. And looking into the trademark created a good occasion to explore the trademarks resources on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, particularly the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). (I am NOT expert in trademark searching, but I was able to mess around and find some things.)

There are a lot of codes involved in trademark searching. For instance, Goods and Services (the [GS] field) are assigned codes, such as 015 for Musical Instruments (goods) and 037 for Construction and Repair (services). The UW provides a service coded broadly as 041, Education and Entertainment. There are also fields for data like the trademark owner's name [ON]. You use the Word Mark [WM] field to look for marks that are letters, punctuation, and words—like, say, W.

Searching for "university of washington" as the owner, and W in the Word Mark field, I found the trademark (serial number 77091314, filed Jan. 5, 2007; registration number 3377279, registered Feb. 5, 2008):

The UW's trademarked W.

I also found trademarked Ws with Huskies, one filed in 1992 and one in 1994.

Two trademarked Ws with Husky faces.
You might think: well, the Husky is distinctive, but that W is just a W.

Not so fast. Look at all the Ws that our W isn't:

1st row: Winona State Univ. (MN), Waynesburg Univ. (PA), Wright State Univ. (OH), Washburn, Univ. of Wisconsin (on its badger); 2nd row: Western Kentucky Univ. (twice), Washburn (again), Wayne State Univ. (Michigan); 3rd row: Waynesburg Univ. (again), Wichita State Univ. (Kansas), Univ. of Wisconsin (behind and on the badger), the Mississippi Univ. for Women; 4th row: Univ. of Wisconsin (a different style), Wharton (Univ. of Pennsylvania), Webster Univ. (MO), Weber State Univ. (UT), the Univ. of Wisconsin (one last time).
So it's not the letter per se, but the particular shape of the W that's trademarked. 

Note that the 16 Ws in the graphic are all universities' Ws. If you broaden the search, you can find Ws for banks, plumbers, and nearly every other kind of business.

This trademark doesn't have any letters or words on it:

UW Husky trademark, filed in 2000.
To search for similar trademarks, you can't look for letters or words. So TESS also allows you to search by design elements. They can be geometric (triangle, ellipse, etc.) or categories like people, trees, or whatever.  In this case the codes are:
03.01.09 - Coyotes; Hyenas; Jackals; Wolves
03.01.16 - Heads of cats, dogs, wolves, foxes, bears, lions, tigers

I learned (by failure) that you need to leave the periods out when you search, but when I got it right 030116[dc] turned up a wide variety of dog and cat logos, including these:

Top Dawg headphones, Bulldog Burgers, Angola LNG Supply Services,Shodogg (Touchstream Technologies), the Centers for Habilitation, New York Dawg Pound, Nutt Butt Bakery, Pupcake Productions, Montana State Univ. (bobcat head), Hooperstown Huskies, NC State (wolf), Jackson Generals (baseball), Charlotte Hounds (lacrosse)
Think of all the different looks our Husky could have had!

For more on trademark searching, see this guide from the UW Engineering Library. For the scoop on how trademarks work at the UW, see University of Washington Trademark and Licensing Policies. And for trademark law, see our guide (note the table of contents in the upper right: you need to click to get to the different sections).

And if you're so inclined, show your purple on Friday. It's even good for discounts at some local businesses!

Hat tip: Meg Butler.

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