GLOBAL PANDEMIC OR U.S. BRANDEMIC?
Now that we’re officially one full year into the current catastrophe it’s time for a brief retrospective from a Branding Law perspective. Commonly-known as “the coronavirus” early on, as a derivation of the “novel coronavirus”, those negative connotations apparently did not have the expected tarnishing effect on the Corona brand for beer. Whether it was a result of increased awareness in the way of free publicity, brand resilience, or simply a function of thirsty, self-quarantining consumers, surprisingly strong sales figures were reported throughout 2020 with “Corona crowned #1” as the world’s top-selling beer brand.
Briefly referred to as the “China virus” in certain political circles, somewhat reminiscent of the “Spanish flu” nearly one hundred years prior, but perhaps with more xenophobic intentions this time around, that soon gave way to “COVID-19” or simply “COVID”, which has remained the dominant point of reference. Occasionally a variant, so to speak, will emerge, such as “Rona” or “Covidiot” for those who defy public health recommendations, but neither has particularly caught on.
However, enterprising types have tried cashing in almost immediately. After surveying the USPTO database in mid.-2020, interestingly-enough, there were hundreds of already-filed trademark applications containing the element “COVID”, increasing from just three on 3/11/20 when the World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic. Currently, that number is up to 573, including one long-abandoned COVID registration for the transparent holographic images that one sees on credit cards and such. Also, it appears that the vast majority were filed in 2020 as intent-to-use applications with only seven having been registered so far, including three belonging to the same company (see below). Once again leading the world in all matters COVID, only 441 applications containing that word have been filed in countries other than the U.S.
Meanwhile, most of these USPTO applications have already been refused on grounds of failure to function as a trademark with some also including an ornamental basis and/or being deemed merely descriptive under Section 2(e) of the Lanham Act. Comprising the ‘lucky seven’ are COID-19 TAX AMNESTY PROGRAM along with three for COVID-ONESWAB, COVID CLEAN INTERNATIONAL, COVID FOUNDATION, and COVID WATCH as the most recent of these with its registration being granted just last month.
Similarly, “SOCIAL DISTANCING” appeared sixty-seven times in the USPTO database with sixty-six of these being filed within the past twelve months and just one being approved, but on the Supplemental Register, as a weaker form of trademark protection for PLEASE STAY ONE APART SOCIAL DISTANCING REQUIRED (AND DESIGN) covering signage and printed materials. Surprisingly though, there are only fifty-four applications including the word “CORONAVIRUS” and only CORONAVIRUS TAX AMNESTY PROGRAM has been registered, by the same entity noted above. Also, by the middle of last year there were 663 filings for CORONA, but now the USPTO database is showing just 738 for a minimal increase, perhaps reflecting less common usage of that term.
Given the six month Office Action response period, by next year most of these references will likely no longer be active, along with the dreadful disease itself, hopefully. And with the miraculous emergence of several promising vaccines in less than twelve months, it’s a fitting sign of our hyper-branded world to have each of these being referred to by its respective company name. Not to mention, as a literal form of ‘personal branding’, harking back to the days of cattle stamping, everyone who’s vaccinated now receives a special COV-ID card, as it were, courtesy of the CDC. “Herd immunity” indeed.
About the author
Senior IP counsel/founder of Goldman Law Group; ranked #5 in the world with 8,000 USPTO filings for creative clients in all 50 states and internationally; thought leader/author of "Branding Law Cases and Materials". Representing Innovation.