After my latest post on the rejection of FUCK as a registered trademark for apparel, I offer all you aficionados of sweary trademarks another roundup of registrations.
Around 100 FUCK-formative trademarks are registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). That’s not including a bunch of sanitized-ish FOX, FVCKs, and similar close calls. In addition to TOM FORD FUCKING FABULOUS — the derivation of which was explored fabulously by my fellow Strong Language contributor Nancy Friedman — other registered fucking marks include:
- FUCK IT! for “noodle-based prepared meals”
- GOOD FUCKING for wine and other alcoholic beverages
- GET THE FUCK OUT OF BED for coffee beans
- FUCK PROOF for mascara
The following design mark is registered for podcast productions, which the producers intriguingly describe as “a true crime comedy podcast about cults, murder and other generally fucked up stuff”:
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?
Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.
Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.
The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:
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?
The New York Times has a replete searchable archive. Every issue is there. But every issue from before 1996 has been OCRed (has had optical character recognition performed on it) and in general has not been checked by human eyes. The result is that sometimes the words you see online are not the words that were in print. And word forms are sometimes misrecognized as other lexical items, such as fuck, rather than as unintelligible collections of characters. (The word fuck per se has appeared many times in The New York Times even before recent years, especially in excerpts from books.)
And so we get this headline from September 29, 1950:
Fucks and Wilt Will Speak