Beyond the Visual: The World of Sound Trademarks

Trademark law has all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies that go further than the traditional word and design marks that are most commonly seen; beyond the letters and logos are sound marks, which capture a distinctive intonation within a registration. These rare marks are not often filed–in fact, only about fifty sound applications were submitted in the entirety of 2020. This is likely due to the fact that in order to achieve registration, sound marks must function as source indicators and allow the listener to make an indisputable association between the sound and the company or products that it represents.

Where can I find sound marks?

Sound trademarks are more prevalent than one might think. Every Netflix show begins with a “ba-dum” noise that opens like a theater curtain, each State Farm commercial concludes with a lively jingle, and every Macbook yawns awake with a power-up tone; these sound marks are not just novel, but also intrinsically connected by the listener to the brand that owns them. If played independently to an audience, many consumers would be able to associate the sound mark with the correct company, demonstrating true strength within those registrations.

What are the requirements for a sound trademark?

Protectable sound marks must meet a certain criteria before they can achieve registration. The USPTO has noted that functional and commonplace sounds are not able to be registered, especially if they are crucial to the objective of the product; for example, an alarm clock’s entire functionality hinges upon the noise it creates, and therefore the ringing alarm could not be registered as a trademark.

When submitting the application for a sound trademark, there are several key requirements that must be met. First, the application must be denoted specifically for a sound mark, and a digital file of the sound must be included. Additionally, another file demonstrating the sound’s use in conjunction with the applicant’s goods and services must be presented. A detailed description of the trademark should be incorporated as well, describing the noise as literally as possible. An excellent example of this is provided by NBC’s application for their chime sound mark: their description within the application included the musical keys and notes of each specific chime.

The future of sound marks

As industries move away from literal messages and into a world of voice and audio platforms, it is becoming more and more apparent that sound trademarks will take on a larger role for branding and consumer recognition. If your business has a sound regularly associated with its goods and services, it may be time to apply for a trademark registration to protect this evolving and innovative element of your brand. Please reach out to an attorney at Gerben Perrott if you have any questions about applying for a sensory trademark and expanding your intellectual property portfolio today.

Josh Gerben, Esq.

Josh Gerben, Esq. is the founder and principal of Gerben IP. In 2008, Mr. Gerben started the firm to provide high-quality trademark services at reasonable prices. Today, he is recognized by the World Trademark Review as a top trademark filer, having registered over 7,500 trademarks. The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only and may not be relied on as legal advice.

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