What’s that sound? A trademark

For the London Free Press - May 14, 2012 - Read this on Canoe A movie studio’s roaring success opened the door for sounds to be trademarked

When one thinks of trademarks, the usual things that come to mind are word marks (the name of a company or product such as "Harrison Pensa" or "President's Choice") or design marks (the logo for a company or product such as the Ford blue oval or the McDonald's arches).

Trademarks can also be registered for colour applied to an object (such as the Nerds On Site red cars, or the UPS brown delivery vehicles). And now we can register sounds as trademarks.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) recently announced that it will accept applications for sound marks.

Sounds have been registrable as trademarks in the United States and other countries for some time. CIPO's new position on accepting sound marks results from a long battle by Metro Goldwyn Mayer to register its roaring lion sound.

CIPO's resistance to registering sound marks apparently arose because the wording of the trademarks act requires marks other than word marks to be filed as a drawing. Sound marks simply didn't fit into the act's registration requirements.

Many large brands have distinct sounds that form an important part of their television, radio and Internet advertising campaigns. It is logical that they should be able to file for a trademark for those, as they are no less of a brand than its word mark, logo or colour.

Indeed, sounds that don't rely on language can become a powerful universal international brand.

We all recognize, for example, the MGM roar at the beginning of a movie, the NBC chimes on television shows and the Intel sound on computer ads.

An applicant for a sound mark registration will have to follow strict rules on the form of the application. It will also have to comply with requirements that apply to trademark registrations generally, such as not being descriptive, and not confusing with existing marks.

Applicants will need to file a recording of the sound, along with a description of the sound and a drawing representing the sound.

Now that these types of applications will be accepted, it will be interesting to see which companies rush to register their sounds in Canada, and how CIPO will approach its decisions regarding which sounds they will accept and which they will not.