There’s a lot of talk about piracy these days . . . and not the eye-patch, shoulder parrot kind of piracy. It seems the Information Age has shined a new light on an ages-old occupation: intellectual property theft. Most artists are aware of this threat, but few are fully knowledgeable of their rights when it comes to protecting what they created. As a comedian, you face that concern, and it’s in your best interest to ask yourself: Can a comedian trademark a joke?
The Simple Answer
If you’re a black and white thinker, then you may be looking for a yes or no answer. Simply put, you CAN trademark a joke. However (and you had to know this was coming), it’s not that simple. In order to legitimately qualify your joke for trademarking, you must be able to prove that you (and your joke) fit within certain guidelines.
The Purpose of Trademarking
In order to fully understand your trademarking rights as a comedian, you will find it helpful to first familiarize yourself with the intended purpose for trademarking. The trademark exists to safeguard materials that may be used to advance an entity or organization’s interests, from other entities who may use the materials for the same purpose. For example, logos are generally used to promote a company’s brand, and mottos are generally used to spread product awareness; therefore, logos and mottos are typically trademarked.
When it comes to determining whether or not your joke qualifies for trademarking, it helps to look a bit closer at the details. Consider the following: Do you use your joke, directly, to distinguish yourself as a saleable service or product? Are you using the joke, itself, as a slogan or motto? Can you prove the joke’s value as a promotional tool (or necessity)? Is your joke completely original? Only after assessing your answers to each of these questions will you be able to decide if your joke is worthy of a trademark in the federal government’s eyes.
How to Trademark
Once you’ve been able to find out if your particular circumstances and qualified your joke for trademarking, it’s time to do some research. Before you can apply for a trademark, you must first conduct a trademark search to determine, definitively, that there is no other joke like yours currently protected under trademark law. It is advisable that you consult with a trademark attorney before you spend any money pursuing a trademark for your joke.
As a comedian, you may find that trademarking is just a necessary part of your business operations (after all, you must be quite the entrepreneur to be successful as a comedian) . . . or you may find that trademarking is not even a viable option for you. Keep these considerations in mind when determining whether or not you want (and/or need) to invest your time, energy, and money into applying to register a trademark for your joke.