During the Christmas holiday season, it is common practice to start a warm greeting by saying Merry Christmas. Those are words that you might hear and say many times. While it is common, did you ever wonder how this phrase came about? And whether "Merry Christmas" can be trademarked?
History and Origin of "Merry Christmas"
Speaking of the origin of this practice, it is a little obscure.
Nevertheless, it is held that as recorded in Stripe Ecclesiastical memorials, the use of 'Merry Christmas' as a seasonal salutation could date back to at least 1534, when John Fisher wished the season's greetings in a letter to Thomas Cromwell.
After that, the term Merry Christmas might have been made very popular in 1843 from two different sources. Then, the phrase became an instant hit for Christmas Greetings around the world.
The first Christmas Card, sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole, had such wording on it: "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You".
In 1843, Charles Dickens used the same phrase in "A Christmas Carol." and the phrase 'Merry Christmas' appears 21 times in the book!
"Merry Christmas" as Trademark
Trademark is not merely a means of protecting a brand, but a valuable business asset. It follows that there would be a demand to seek trademark ownership and registration of popular holiday names – Merry Christmas is not an exception. However, is it possible to have the rights for warm greetings? Everything is possible but not everything is probable.
Seemingly it is possible to trademark holiday greetings in US at least, if you use the name to sell or promote your goods or services. The trademark application will be successful if there's no prior obstacle and the mark is distinctive enough in subject classes by the registries. Want some examples?
Trademark records from USPTO
Through the trademark database of USPTO, as we can see, Merry Christmas per se is trademarked on fruit, wine etc. Combining with some simple descriptive words or design, they also could be trademarked on Christmas type of product.
The above owners were able to acquire the trademark registrations, but nothing limits you from using the term to wish someone a happy holiday!
Registration will put a limit on the usage of the trademark within a specific market. Therefore, the ability to distinguish descriptive use from specific market become crucial, based on actual trademark infringement.
The same situation in Europe: there's no trademark for "Merry Christmas" per se being registered through the search in EUIPO. However, with other distinctive characteristics, it could be protected as trademark. For example:
Trademark records from EUIPO
From the Oriental side ofthe world, the rule is comparatively stricter. It is not probable to own the trademark right for "Merry Christmas" per se on any goods/services. According to Chinese Trademark Examination standard, the common greeting words, for example "新年快乐 (Happy New Year)", are not allowed to be registered as trademark due to the lack of distinctiveness characteristics. The search into Chinese trademark database doesn't disclose any trademark for "Merry Christmas /圣诞快乐" registered.
However, if a trademark has other strong distinctive part, while the term "Merry Christmas" only serve as description or decoration function, it could be registered to some extent. For example, the below trademark has been protected in China.
Trademark records from CNIPA
Coming back to the question – can "Merry Christmas" be trademarked? Obviously, in some countries it can be trademarked. However, as long as "Merry Christmas" is used to express sincere sentiment to others, it is totally fine, and no trademark infringement worries. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!
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