Sorry to interrupt, but it’s “100% That Bitch®,” actually.
Grammy-winning songstress Lizzo won a years-long trademark battle last month when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board overruled the USPTO’s rejection of her application. The decision ended a four-year saga that surfaced plagiarism accusations, explored the definition of content ownership, and sparked debate on the legal ramifications of meme culture.
Why all the trouble? It’s because trademarks are powerful. Trademarks mean you mean business. Trademarks tell people you’ve put your money where your mouth is. If you have an idea that you truly believe could make millions — or you just want to protect yourself from grifters who copy your work, like me — a trademark is something you should consider.
Trust Me, You Want That Trademark®
There’s no denying it: you are that bitch when you have a trademark.
Unfortunately, trademarks take a long time to secure. There are documents, and reviewers, and payments, and classifications. You must demonstrate that the phrase or logo you want to trademark is irrefutably associated with your business or brand.
The more general a phrase is, the harder it becomes to secure (Although EMI somehow has the trademark on the word “entrepreneur®”, I still don’t get how that happened, but the USPTO granted all these too, so who knows).
Then the pandemic came along, and applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office exploded. “In December 2020 alone, the USPTO received 92,608 trademark applications, an increase of 172% over December 2019,” reads a blog on the office’s website.
Trademarks Already Took a While, But Now They Take Even Longer
Even with hiring a good lawyer, I’ve been in a trademark application myself for eighteen months. It’s a lot. But, if you anticipate something being big, or being “your thing” for years to come, you want to apply for a trademark as soon as you can.
You also want to do it if you think someone else might beat you to the punch. Otherwise, you’ll be shut out from making any money with that phrase or logo. I suppose you could try anyway. But if you get caught, you’ll be fucked. Remember “Tiger King?” Joe Exotic trolled Carole Baskin by impersonating her logos, she sued him for trademark infringement, and eventually he lost the whole damn zoo. 🐯
Sorry — back to Lizzo.
When Lizzo’s 2017 single “Truth Hurts” saw massive success, she understandably applied to trademark the viral phrase shortly thereafter. But before she could submit the application, accusations of plagiarism began to surface.
As of March 10th, 2023, “Truth Hurts” has 300 million views on YouTube and 898 million streams on Spotify.
What If Your Trademark Was Inspired by a Meme?
Lizzo said she was inspired by an Instagram meme she saw before writing the song. The meme, however, was itself inspired by a viral tweet from singer Mina Lioness. “Now everyone believes those were your words, when in fact they were mine. My creativity, my wit and my comedy,” Lioness tweeted to Lizzo in 2018.
Trademarking is especially sticky for artists and creatives. What actually defines ”original content” these days? The dispute disrupted Lizzo’s application process, and she eventually gave Lioness a writing credit on the song in 2019.
Nevertheless, the damage had been done: the plagiarism haziness was enough for the USPTO to reject Lizzo’s application when it came up for review last year.
When You Hear “100% That Bitch®,” Who Comes to Mind?
Lizzo, obviously. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed.
“Lizzo did not originate the expression she encountered as a Twitter meme. Nonetheless, lyrics from songs are more likely to be attributed to the artists who sing, rap or otherwise utter them, rather than the songwriters,” read the board’s decision, which overruled the original USPTO rejection.
The “100% That Bitch®” trademark on the USPTO database. Screenshot taken March 10th, 2023.
In the often-ruthless world of business, ownership is a vital asset. And I’m not just talking about equity, though we love that too. Your entrepreneurial dreams and creations deserve protection. You deserve to own them.
If you’re great at what you do, you don’t need a DNA test to know you’re that bitch. What you need is a trademark. When you have a trademark for your art, craft, system or brand, you’ll show up with confidence for years to come. ⬥
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