For decades, it would have been a complete waste of your time to apply to register FUCK at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Same with F*CK, FXCK, F CK, FUK, FUX, FUHKIT, and the like. Images of a raised middle finger? Also entirely out of the question.
Then, in 2019, the Supreme Court struck down the statutory bar on registering “scandalous” trademarks. That decision opened the door to all sorts of fucking shit on the trademark register, in the name of free speech.
Or did it?
Erik Brunetti, the plaintiff who won at the Supreme Court and ultimately registered FUCT, then tried to register plain old FUCK. In June of 2021, an examining attorney refused Brunetti’s application for FUCK for sunglasses, cell phone cases, jewelry, a variety of types of bags, and retail services. Many of the same goods for which he’d already registered FUCT. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) – essentially the appellate court of the USPTO – has agreed with that conclusion.
So scandalous trademarks are generally registrable, but FUCK isn’t? What the actual . . . heck?
More than a decade ago, I was hired by a large US retailer to develop names for a new perfume the retailer was introducing. There was no actual fragrance for me to sniff, or even a list of ingredients—just a concept and a target audience. The “juice,” as it’s called in the business, would come later.
A few years after that project I attended a talk by a fragrance-industry consultant who told the audience that most perfumes are created that way now: first a mood board, then a name, and then, finally, the contents of the bottle.
Most perfumes. But not all. Not, for example, Fucking Fabulous, a unisex fragrance launched in 2017 by American fashion designer Tom Ford. In this case, the name came last.
The official line from the Tom Ford brand is that Fucking Fabulous is “undeniably the most straightforward name for a beautiful scent.” It’s a little too straightforward for many retailers. Bluemercury, an upscale beauty chain, bowdlerizes it as F’ing Fabulous (see image). Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman Marcus just call it Fabulous, while depicting the bottle with the full name. Sephora, by contrast, minces no words: It’s Fucking all the way.
Well, that title’s not exactly true. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has given a few FUCKs.
It has, for example, registered FUCK RACISM and FUCK THE ODDS for apparel, FUCK BOY for candles, FUCK JERRY for marketing and entertainment services, and FUCK THE POPULATION for various toys, bags, apparel and sporting equipment.
But not FUCK itself.
Well, sure, FUCK for snow globes, but more on that later. . . .
Erik Brunetti had to go all the way to the Supreme Court a couple of years ago to get the USPTO to give him a trademark registration for the legally scandalous term FUCT. He owns a few registrations for FUCT and uses it on a variety of goods including apparel, bags of different types, and eyeglasses.
But the USPTO has rejected his application for FUCK for essentially the same goods and services. Why did the USPTO decide to draw the line there?
If you go to Louisville, Kentucky — as my wife and I do as frequently as we can — you have to eat, so you’re always on the lookout for worthwhile restaurants. Frankly, we tend to eat at our favorite spots whenever we visit, but before our last weekend there, I checked the restaurant-tagged Google map for new places. There was one of our favorites, Doc Crow’s — oysters on the shell, exceptional pork rinds — and just behind it was a bar called The Troll Pub. I clicked over to its website and immediately exclaimed “What the fuck?” which was only partly an expression of my incredulity, because at The Troll Pub they have WTF happy hours — Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays — so I was also just reading what was in front of me. But what an offense! I stared in disbelief at WTF, a perfectly good profanity, brought down by a marketing pun. “How often are we taken in by this indirection?” I wondered. In fact, it happens more than you’d think, let alone hope. I learned this when shopping around for fun game night games, some of which perpetrate similar puns.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has been refusing plenty of applications for marks containing curse words on the dubious ground that they are too commonplace to serve as trademarks. Ever. As I explained in my last post, these applications include SHUT THE FUCK UP legal services, KEEP FUCKING GOING jewelry, and YOU’RE AWESOME KEEP THAT SHIT UP dinnerware and oven mitts.
After that shocking exposé, we’ve earned a sweary tour through those scandalous marks that have made it onto the federal register. Applying to register these before the Supreme Court eliminated the ban in 2019 would have been a complete waste of time and money. But they have now officially penetrated the federal database. I’m not including the multiple asterisked-for-your-protection marks now on the register, though those too wouldn’t have made it through during the heyday of the scandalousness ban.
Let’s start with the shitstorm. Continue reading