Procter & Gamble, the international consumer packaged goods conglomerate, recently filed a slew of trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, seeking to register WTF, LOL, FML, and NBD for use in conjunction with certain consumer goods. Now, I suspect most of you are familiar with these acronyms, but if you aren’t, LOL stands for “laughing out loud” and NBD stands for “no big deal.” As for WTF and FML, if you’re unfamiliar with these acronyms, I welcome you to conduct a quick Google search, as I will not be discussing their meanings in this article.
In any event, Procter & Gamble’s attempt to register these trademarks with the USPTO has caused a bit of a stir among casual readers who lack familiarity with United States trademark law. Such readers may, however unreasonably, believe that if Procter & Gamble obtain trademark rights regarding these acronyms, many everyday users will no longer be able to utilize the phrases. But that belief demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights conferred by United States trademark law. The truth is, Procter & Gamble doesn’t care if individuals continue to use these acronyms as part of their everyday vocabulary. In fact, Procter & Gamble probably prefers that these phrases stay in use and maintain relevance. After all, that’s the name of the game: finding a word or phrase people are familiar with and associating it with your product. Of course, this assumes that no one else owns the right to use that word or phrase in conjunction with that particular product or other related products. To summarize, trademark law does not give the owner of the mark a monopoly over the name or phrase. Instead, it gives the owner the exclusive right to use that name or phrase in conjunction with specified products.
So, moving on to the next question: will Procter & Gamble be able to register these marks with the USPTO? In short, I don’t see why not. In fact, the USPTO just issued notice of its intent to publish each of the marks for opposition. In plain English, what this means is that the USPTO’s examining attorney, who serves as the gatekeeper for registrable trademarks, has reviewed each of the applications and determined that the marks are entitled to registration and that no confusingly similar marks exist. Now, the marks will each be published in the Trademark Official Gazette, where others will have the opportunity to see, and, if they should choose, oppose the registration of any of the marks on the ground that it is confusingly similar to the opposing party’s mark. If no one opposes the mark’s registration, the USPTO usually issues a registration certificate within 12 weeks and the process concludes with the applicant becoming the owner of a federally registered trademark. It’s unclear if anyone will challenge Procter & Gamble’s putative trademarks, but if the marks made it by the USPTO’s examining attorney without the issuance of an office action, it seems reasonably likely they will sail on to registration without opposition.
Now that it’s clear that Procter & Gamble’s potential registration of WTF, LOL, FML, and NBD will be NBD, and therefore have no bearing on your everyday use of those acronyms, you really have to wonder, what kind of consumer goods will be sold in conjunction with the acronyms WTF or FML? If you’re familiar with the acronyms or Googled them as I suggested above, it’s really an interesting question.