January 11, 2017

Using Trademarks for Good!

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday marking the birthday and commemorating the life of one of our most venerated civil rights leaders.

The Corporation for National & Community Service (a federal agency that operates, promotes, and supports community service programs and activities) encourages everyone to honor Dr. King by marking the holiday with a day of service to others. Service projects may lead us closer to Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community," a just society achieved by using nonviolent direct action to address social problems. CNCS uses the following logo to promote its call to action:


Last year, CNCS filed several trademark applications to register marks associated with its community service programs. But CNCS did not seek to register the mark above. It may be that conflicting claims in the rights associated with Dr. King's likeness make registration of the mark in the name of CNCS problematic.

Especially because federal registration of a mark requires use "in commerce," it is easy to think of trademark protection as something confined to the world of for-profit businesses. But, as this example shows, that is not the case. Many of CNCS's trademark applications seek protection of marks used in connection with the service of "promoting individual participation in national service, community service, and volunteer activities" in Class 35. Non-profit organizations, foundations, and government agencies may protect the goodwill associated with marks used to carry out their missions via trademark registration. Perhaps CNCS is considering protecting the tag line portion of the mark above "Make it a Day On, Not a Day Off" independently since it is catchy and motivating.

If you are inspired to engage a day of service in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, you can learn more about CNCS's promotion and support of MLK Day projects and find volunteer opportunities near you here: https://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday.