Original photo: George Walker IV (Associated Press)
Contributing Editor: Rachelle Mulumba, The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property
Music star Taylor Swift has had quite a year. Fans flocked to her Eras tour, traveling far and wide to share friendship bracelets and sing along to every song. Economists have even said the latest tour had a huge positive financial impact, adding millions in tourism dollars to cities nationwide. So where do Taylor Swift trademarks factor into this economic equation?
Building a Taylor Swift Trademark Portfolio
“Tay-Tay”, as she is affectionately called by the internet, likely has a team of lawyers that assist in maintaining her large portfolio of business and intellectual property assets. These lawyers have acquired several trademarks within the “Swift” entertainment universe. This includes the words and slogans used on tour merchandise and other profitable products. This brings us to a great question: what can and cannot be trademarked in Taylor’s world?
First, we need to define what a trademark is and how it is used to identify specific goods or services. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers this definition:
A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things that identifies your goods or services. It’s how customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish you from your competitors.
When a trademark application is submitted, the owner has to provide information on what goods or services are associated with the mark. This is done by selecting one or more classes. The USPTO has approximately 45 classes, each one representing a master list of goods or services. There are often many related products within each class. For example, class 025 is apparel, and lists many types of clothing, headgear, and footwear products. A master list of goods can be found here.
Let’s “stage dive” in (a nod to the Eras tour!) and see what Taylor has or has not trademarked:
“Swifties”: YES, it is trademarked
The term “Swifties” is listed in the USPTO’s “TESS” database many times, but the one that stands out is registered by TAS Rights Management, LLC, the main company for Taylor’s trademarks. Registration number 6646529 is the word mark “SWIFTIES,” and has been registered for services in international class 035.
What this means is Taylor has secured ownership of the right to use SWIFTIES with services related to advertising, business management, administration and office functions. For example, Taylor might advertise a special event for her fans, and might use the word SWIFTIES in the advertisement.
Friendship Bracelet: NO
When going to a Taylor Swift show, it’s common knowledge that one should bring friendship bracelets to exchange with fellow fans. “Friendship bracelet” is not a trademark owned by Taylor. In fact, it likely cannot be trademarked at all, as it is considered generic. A generic mark is “a word or phrase that cannot acquire a secondary meaning because it is a general or common term for the product or service offered.” These types of marks cannot be trademarked because it would limit commerce and likely give the owner of the mark a monopoly on the goods being offered. Check out IP 101: Trademark Fundamentals for the Entrepreneur.
1989 Taylor’s Version, Red Taylor’s Version, Speak Now Taylor’s Version, Fearless Taylor’s Version: YES
Much to Scooter Braun’s chagrin, Taylor has secured numerous trademarks for the albums she is re-recording. Some of the marks she has registered include:
- Registration number 6927646 for “Red Taylor’s Version”
- Registration number 6927280 for “Fearless Taylor’s Version”
- Serial number 98136401 for “Speak Now Taylor’s Version”
There are multiple trademark registrations for these and most, if not all of Taylor’s albums. Stans should get their wallets out, though, because it looks like a lot of related merchandise is headed your way! The marks are registered for classes 009 (musical recordings), 014 (jewelry), 016 (blank journal books, etc.), 018 (carrying basset), 020 (picture frames), 021 (beverage ware), 025 (apparel), and many more. Can I get a “1989 Taylor’s Version” coffee mug, please?
With holiday season around the corner, you might be able to purchase a festive Swiftmas t-shirt or sweater. A recent filing by TAS Rights Management, LLC shows an application for SWIFTMAS, in classes 016 (stationery, etc.) and 025 (apparel). This mark is not used just yet, but the owner intends to use it at some point. The USPTO has a special way of identifying marks that are not currently being used to sell goods but will in the future. The registrant must submit the application with a “1B basis,” indicating the registrant “intends to use” the mark. So, when Taylor is ready to start selling Swiftmas sweaters, she will need to tell the USPTO she is now using the mark in commerce by submitting a Statement of Use.
Taylor Swift has made her mark on the music industry in more ways than one. Her IP portfolio, including these trademarks, are a small case study illustrating the evolution of the modern pop star from music artist to brand to business mogul. The last decade of pop stars are arguably miles more in control when it comes to the usage and commercialization of their image and likeness than those that came before them. It’s a sure thing that the increased awareness of intellectual property rights among artists including Taylor has played a huge role.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, provides access to empowering IP education for budding inventors and entrepreneurs. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org.