United States: What’s That Sound?

Not many of us, even trademark attorneys, hear a trademark when they hear the sound of a lion roaring, a laugh, a duck quacking, a cheer, or the sound of an engine starting. Sometimes, however, what we hear is a trademark. The MGM lion, the laugh of the Jolly Green Giant, the AFLAC duck, the football cheer for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, the theme of the Lone Ranger, and the roar of a Harley-Davidson are just a few examples of many registered sound marks (for more, see http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/soundmarks).

What does a registration of a sound trademark look like?  Here is a fairly recent example for registration of a "hog call" cheer for "providing collegiate athletic and sporting events":

To obtain this registration, the University of Arkansas submitted a video of various school officials and others leading a crowd in the "hog call" cheer, and it also claimed that the cheer had become distinctive for its services of providing collegiate athletic and sporting events through years of "substantially exclusive and continuous use" of the cheer for the services.  Earlier the Trademark Office had rejected a video which just showed the crowd cheering, stating that because crowds commonly cheer at sporting events, "consumers of the sporting event would not recognize the chant as a source indicator for the event."  Should the fact that the cheer is being led by school officials have changed this conclusion? Would you think that the cheer indicates the source of the athletic event?

The Trademark Office rules state that if sounds "resemble or imitate 'commonplace' sounds or those to which listeners have been exposed under different circumstances" (TMEP § 1202.15) it will make the applicant for registration prove that that the sound has come to be exclusively associated with the applicant for the products or services for which the applicant seeks registration of the mark.

Sometimes the sound will be unique. For example, the AFLAC duck does not really quack like a duck – the duck is saying "AFLAC" in a way that a duck might say "AFLAC"  if it could talk.  Since trademarks are about creating exclusive associations between words, symbols, sounds or even smells and  particular sources for products or services, it is easy to understand that the AFLAC sound is a trademark with having to prove that it has become distinctive.

76307773 (click here)

But what about the roar of the MGM lion?

lion roar (yes, you guessed it, click here)

Looking at the Trademark Office rule, do you think that it should have required this kind of proof from MGM? What about the particular "ho-ho-ho" of the Jolly Green Giant? How do you show an exclusive association between, for example, canned vegetables and a sound? Does the Trademark Office treat sound marks the way it treats sight marks?  I will let you know.

We all know that regardless of what proofs the Trademark Office required, we recognize the particular laugh of the Jolly Green Giant.  It is possible (though it seems unlikely) that there are people out there who laugh like the Jolly Green Giant, and Jolly St. Nick might wonder about whether he was the inspiration of the laugh, but we all know the laugh.

What about the particular squeal of the Pillsbury Dough Boy?

dough boy (you know the drill...)

Maybe there are people who laugh like the dough boy. I doubt it. We all know the unmistakable laugh.

Likewise, if you are in a movie theater, even if you close your eyes before the film starts, you will recognize the roar of the lion and know that this is a film from MGM.

As you have seen, sounds may become marks either because they are truly unique or because even though they may not be so different from sounds you have heard, they have become exclusively associated with a product or service.

Claimed sound marks have even been the subject of disputes in court.  For example, considering ducks once again, a court found that the quacking noise used by one tour company using DUKW amphibious vehicles was not likely to cause confusion among customers and potential customers familiar with another tour company using a quacking noise in connection with its tours.

Now when you hear certain sounds, you might recognize them as trademarks. Who knows — maybe when you see and hear a quiet storm over the fruits and vegetables in a supermarket, you might wonder whether that sound and light effect was ever the subject of a trademark registration for misting units.  Maybe someday there will be a trademark that overwhelms all of five senses at once.

We'll leave you with a famous registered sound mark, the William Tell Overture:

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.