By MacKenzie Millam

Law student at West Virginia University College of Law, Millam is part of Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig Summer Internship Program and holds a strong interest in Intellectual Property Law.

[07/03/2019 Leesburg]  In May 2019, Rapper Cardi B’s dual trademark applications for the catchphrase “okurrr” were denied registration by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Cardi B filed the applications in March 2019, seeking to register the phrase in connection with clothing items and paper goods such as cups and posters.

The USPTO refused the applications on the grounds that the catchphrase is a “widely-used commonplace expression.” In its letters of refusal, the USPTO noted that the phrase is “commonly used in the drag community and by celebrities as an alternate way of saying ‘OK’ or ‘something that is said to affirm when someone is being put in their place.’” Because people are already familiar with the expression, the USPTO concluded that consumers wouldn’t necessarily associate “okurrr” with Cardi B or see her as the source of the clothing and paper goods she seeks to provide – an issue that renders the applications, in the USPTO’s eyes, unregistrable.

Trademarks are intended to signal the source of goods or services to consumers. The underlying goal of a trademark is to ensure that the public can trust that a certain product or service comes from a specific source. Catchphrases can be trademarked – for example, Paris Hilton owns the trademark for “That’s Hot” – but if a catchphrase is so widely sued that it does not serve to signal source, a trademark application for that catchphrase will likely be unsuccessful.

Cardi B has the opportunity to present arguments and evidence to the USPTO in an effort to change their decision about her applications. It is not known whether she intends to do so. Regardless, based on the evidence cited by the USPTO in its letters of refusal, it is certain that Cardi B faces an uphill battle.

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