Can You Trademark Inspirational Thoughts?

by Lee Roberts
Intellectual property laws help you own the thoughts you use to inspire others.

Intellectual property laws help you own the thoughts you use to inspire others.

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Trademark law promotes fairness in the marketplace by granting business owners the right to use words or symbols to distinguish their goods from those of their competitors. Your inspirational thoughts may qualify for trademark protection if you use them in a commercial venture and if you meet the general criteria for trademarks. The trademark laws may not be your best option if your main goal is to protect your inspirational thoughts as words of inspiration rather than to use them as a way to build a brand or promote goods and services.

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Trademark Basics

Trademarks help consumers distinguish among possible sources of goods or services within an industry. As the trademark owner, you have the power to exclude all of your competitors from using specific words or phrases that represent your products. Consumers can determine quickly if two products are related to one another simply by seeing that they bear the same trademark. Consumers then can draw their own conclusions about factors that influence their buying decisions.


To attempt to trademark your inspirational thoughts, you must put them in a form that you can use in commerce. You may express your thought as a word, phrase, symbol, design or combination of those things. The USPTO evaluates the strength of the words as a mark based on how they relate to the specific goods or services that you intend the mark to protect. If your inspirational words merely describe the goods or services, you will create a very weak mark that may not be subject to protection from competition.

More Than Decorative

Trademark laws do not exclude inspirational thoughts as a matter of course. The USPTO will look to see if consumers are able to identify the source of the products from the proposed trademark. The public may perceive inspirational thoughts as merely ornamental and therefore not recognize them as a trademark when you display the words across items such as clothing or tote bags. If you print the same words on a tag attached to the clothing or bag, the public is more likely to perceive the words as a trademark.

Sample Marks

As examples of phrases that have some inspirational value and which the USPTO registered as trademarks, in 2007, then National Football League coach Dennis Green, claimed ownership of the phrase THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. Although he first used the phrase after a loss, it inspires teams to perform better the next time. Until he abandoned the trademark in 2009, Coach Green asserted rights exclusively over sports merchandise. In 2011, an individual registered the words CREATE YOUR OWN HAPPINESS on the intent-to-use basis in connection with jackets, scarves, t-shirts and the like. The words DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK: TEN ILLUSIONS THAT PREVENT US FROM FINDING TRUE HAPPINESS serve as the mark for a sole proprietorship offering educational services, as of 2012.