Can I trademark a holiday?

Yes, you can trademark a holiday name. You can trademark the name of a holiday if you use the name to promote or sell your products and services.

This information was provided by our founding attorney, Xavier Morales, Esq. 

For example, “THANKSGIVING” is a registered trademark for a line of wines. In order to successfully trademark the name of a holiday, you will have to demonstrate to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that you are utilizing the holiday’s name for the branding of your products or services. These trademarks can be difficult to attain, as there are a great many existing trademarks that feature holiday names.

It is important to note that trademarking a holiday will not give you ownership of that holiday, nor will it prevent others from celebrating the holiday. Trademarks only restrict the usage of a word, phrase, or logo in the context of a specific market. Outside of that market, the word or words can be used as normal.

If you would like to use the name of a holiday to brand your goods and services, you should have us perform a thorough trademark search to ensure that there are no existing trademarks on that holiday’s name.

Broadening the Scope of Trademark Applications for Holidays

The process of trademark registration often involves assessing the scope of the proposed mark’s use. For instance, a company might file trademark applications for holiday-related terms across various platforms, from clothing and food to entertainment services and events. This strategy ensures that the trademark filing covers an extensive range of products and services, turning the holiday name into a valuable business asset.

However, as you can imagine, many people have attempted to trademark holiday names across several categories and have been unsuccessful due to the nature of the trademark and the difficulty of getting the required level of distinctiveness. For example, there are over 2,000 live marks for the phrase "Christmas" with it being used in 21 applications across clothing, and about 40% of applications for the phrase "Merry Christmas" are rejected in this category.

Cultural Sensitivity and Trademark Ownership

In cases where the holiday name is linked to specific communities or cultural traditions, considerations around cultural appropriation and respect for those communities become paramount.

For example, there was a famous case in 2013 where Disney filed a trademark for the phrase "Día de los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead". Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday that honors and remembers loved ones who have passed away. Disney attempted to trademark the phrase to promote their upcoming animated Pixar film Coco and received great backlash for trying to do so. Many, especially those in the Mexican community, claimed it was culturally insensitive and an "act of cultural appropriation". In response to the backlash, Disney withdrew their trademark application, releasing a statement that they were just intending to protect the title of their film and related activities (the film was originally titled Día de los Muertos and changed as a result).

Trademark activity involving holidays, especially those significant to communities in the context of federal holidays, must navigate the balance between business interests and cultural sensitivity.

Exclusive Rights and Market Competition

Securing exclusive rights through trademark registrations enables business owners to protect their brand identity in competitive markets. Whether it's a movie, food product, or clothing line associated with a holiday, valid trademarks prevent confusion among consumers and safeguard the company’s interests.

For example, Kwanzaa is a secular festival that African Americans celebrate to honor their cultural heritage and traditional values. KWANZAA POPCORN was an attempted trademark for a brand of popcorn, however, it was rejected by USPTO because of its similarity with previously registered KWANZAA KRAVINGS who also sell popcorn amongst their other snacks.

The Role of Major Brands in Trademarking Holidays

Major brands, such as Disney and Coca-Cola, often engage in trademark activity surrounding holidays to capitalize on the celebration and recognition of these times. By securing valid marks for their products and services, from entertainment services to themed events, these companies can effectively monopolize certain aspects of the holiday celebration in the market, enhancing their visibility and connection with consumers.

Coca-Cola has successfully trademarked its version of a Santa Claus image which it uses on many affiliated products such as holiday ornaments, snow globes, clothing, cookie jars, electric trains, and much more. This helps solidify the brand's presence at Christmas time and monopolize the holiday to make a profit outside of just their beverage offering.

Wrapping Up

Trademarking a holiday name for use in branding goods and services can be a strategic move for business owners, offering a unique way to stand out in the marketplace.

However, the process requires careful consideration of existing trademark registrations, cultural sensitivities, and the potential impact on communities. Conducting a thorough trademark search and consulting with experienced legal counsel are crucial steps in ensuring that your trademark filing is successful and respectful of broader societal values.

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Xavier Morales, Esq.

About the Author

Xavier Morales, Esq.

Mr. Morales founded his trademark law practice in January 2007 with the goal of providing intellectual property expertise to entrepreneurs and businesses around the country. Since then, he has filed more than 6,000 trademarks with the USPTO. You can learn more about Xavier here.

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