Even though it’s very difficult to protect a sound as a trademark, sounds are increasingly used to help brands stand out in the marketplace. Part of the requirement for getting a sound trademark is being able to describe it in such as way that proves it’s unique. NBC was one of the first companies to get a sound trademark in 1978 for it’s “chimes” (musical notes played in a certain sequence). On the other hand, Harley Davidson tried for six years to get its famous engine sound trademarked. The problem was it couldn’t describe its engine sound in a way that set it apart from other motorcycle engines.
Adding sound expands your brand identity to other customer senses. Sounds connects to the consumer on an emotional level and conveys a sense of your brand, whether it’s romantic, sensual, family friendly or luxurious, without spoken words or seeing a picture. It makes your brand more memorable (especially in this age of shortened attention spans) and stand out from the competition.
Both distinctive sounds, like a siren, or common sounds such as a dog barking, can be trademarked, but it often requires associating them with something else, such as an image, to qualify for registration. If you’ve been to the movies, and heard the MGM lion’s roar, or the THX “Deep Note” for its sound system before the movie starts, then what you’ve heard are both trademarks.
Technology companies are also using sounds, such as Intel’s 5 note ding/3 second chord sequence used with the Pentium processor, the spoken letters “AT&T” with a music background, and Nokia’s default ring tone are all trademarks. Other examples include AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail”, and the Apple MAC startup tone.
You’ll even hear trademarked sounds for some well-known consumer product brands including the Pillsbury Doughboys’ unique giggle (produced when Pop’n Fresh is poked in the stomach), the General Mills “Ho, Ho, Ho, Green Giant” sound, and the American Family Life Assurance Company duck quacking the word “AFLAC”.
As technology continues to spread sound capabilities in everything from phones to wearable devices, the use and trademarking of sounds to create a brand experience will continue to increase. Internationally, several countries have amended their trademark laws to include sounds, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and Australia. If you use a unique sound to identify your company or product, it might be worth investing some time and money to trademark it.
See if you can guess these famous trademarks by their sounds (answers at end of this blog):
If you’d like to hear more trademark sounds, click this link to the USPTO website.
1.20th Century Fox Studios
3. Harlem Globetrotters
4. Warner Bros. Looney Tunes
Rand Brenner is an IP professional whose passion is helping inventors, startups, and businesses of all sizes use licensing to turn their IP into income-producing products, services, and technologies. His decades of experience run the gamut from medical devices to food technology to consumer products. He’s licensed some of the biggest Hollywood entertainment blockbusters including the Batman Movies (1 and 2), and the number one kid’s action TV show, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Rand speaks about licensing and is a featured speaker at investment conferences, trade shows, colleges, and startup events. His first book, Hidden Wealth: The Money Making Power of Licensing was released in 2019 and is available on Amazon.com. He’s also a published writer with articles appearing in several prestigious trade magazine including The Licensing Journal, Intellectual Property Magazine, and License India. Rand also mentors at the Cal State Fullerton School of Business and Economics and is a judge for their startup business plan competitions.