Is it possible to trademark a sound?

Glenn W. Peterson

It is important for many business owners in California to forge a unique brand identity and protect it with trademarks. However, are there limits to what you can register as a trademark? In addition to logos and slogans, can you also trademark a particular sound? According to the Huffington Post, it is technically possible to trademark a sound. However, it is extremely difficult to do so successfully.

To protect a sound recording that is part of your brand identity, it may serve you better to copyright it rather than trying to trademark it. The disadvantage of a copyright is that it eventually expires, whereas trademarks stay active as long as they are in use. However, your copyright will not expire until decades after your death, and even then, whoever is running your business at that time may be able to renew it at least once.

There is nothing in trademark law that prevents you from attempting to trademark a sound. However, there are strict standards in place that make it difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. The sound must be completely distinct and so closely associated with your business that it produces an immediate recognition in the subliminal mind of the audience.

One of the first businesses to trademark a sound was also the most successful. The National Broadcasting Company, more commonly known as NBC, successfully applied for and obtained a sound mark in 1978. However, for every company that successfully registers a sound mark, there are many others that fail. An example is Harley-Davidson, which was unable to establish the distinctiveness of the sound of its V-Twin engines after six years of litigation and ultimately withdrew its application.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.