TMEP 1202.15: Sound Marks

This is the October 2015 Edition of the TMEP

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1202.15    Sound Marks

A sound mark identifies and distinguishes a product or service through audio rather than visual means. Sound marks function as source indicators when they “assume a definitive shape or arrangement” and “create in the hearer’s mind an association of the sound” with a good or service. In re Gen. Electric Broad. Co., 199 USPQ 560, 563 (TTAB 1978). Thus, sounds may be registered on the Principal Register when they are “arbitrary, unique or distinctive and can be used in a manner so as to attach to the mind of the listener and be awakened on later hearing in a way that would indicate for the listener that a particular product or service was coming from a particular, even if anonymous, source.” In re Vertex Grp. LLC, 89 USPQ2d 1694, 1700 (TTAB 2009). Examples of sound marks include: (1) a series of tones or musical notes, with or without words; and (2) wording accompanied by music.

There is, however, a difference between unique, different, or distinctive sounds and those that resemble or imitate “commonplace” sounds or those to which listeners have been exposed under different circumstances, which must be shown to have acquired distinctiveness. Gen. Electric Broad. 199 USPQ at 563 (TTAB 1978). Examples of "commonplace" sound marks include goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation (e.g., alarm clocks, appliances that include audible alarms or signals, telephones, and personal security alarms). Therefore, sound marks for goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation can be registered only on a showing of acquired distinctiveness under §2(f). In re Powermat Inc., 105 USPQ2d 1789, 1793 (TTAB 2013) (finding battery chargers that emit “chirp” sounds slightly increasing and decreasing in pitch not inherently distinctive, and applicant’s advertising only relevant in a showing of acquired distinctiveness); Nextel Commc'ns, Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 91 USPQ2d 1393 (TTAB 2009) (holding cellular telephones that emit a “chirp” sound fall into the category of goods that make the sound in their normal course of operation); Vertex, 89 USPQ2d at 1700, 1702 (holding personal security alarm clock products that emit a sound pulse fall into the category of goods that make sound in the normal course of operation).

See TMEP §807.09 regarding the requirements for submitting applications for sound marks and §904.03(f) regarding specimens for sound marks.