–Sharon Armstrong, Attorney

You know how when you say a word over and over again, or stare at it long enough, it stops making ordinary sense and starts becoming something else?  To some extent, that’s how I’m beginning to feel about “occupy.”

Regardless of what you may think about the movement – that it is democracy in action or just a bunch of people who need to “take a bath and get a job” – there is no doubt that the term “occupy” means more than just “to take up space.”  To say “occupy,” these days conjures up any of a number of images and meanings, from concepts as direct as “the 99 percent” to a funny-and-disturbing-all-at-the-same-time meme about a college cop casually aiming pepper spray at anything that crosses his path.

Given the amount of ink that could be spilled on this subject, I’ll limit my post to one of the most notable trends (from a trademark perspective) at hand in connection with the movement: the explosion in trademark applications including the term “occupy.”  Since early October, 28 trademark applications have been filed that include the word “occupy”; of these, 21 are for clothing of some kind. Most notably, there are three pending applications for OCCUPY WALL STREET or OCCUPY WALL ST.

Notably, both Fer-Eng Investments and Occupy Wall Street applied for OCCUPY WALL STREET on October 24 and continue to hold live applications; the owner of the OCCUPY WALL ST. application, filed on October 18, has already abandoned the application, presumably at the behest of one of the other applicants.  Occupy Wall Street’s application serial number (85454550) is lower than that of Fer-Eng’s (85454831), reflecting Occupy Wall Street’s act of filing just a few hours ahead of Fer-Eng.

I can’t discuss these trademark applications without addressing the underlying implication of these filings – namely, that trademark registrations can be obtained only once the applied-for goods or services are offered for sale in commerce.  The attempt to protect and subsequently capitalize on the Occupy movement will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in the mouths of some protesters and a smirk on the lips of those who may equate a democratic protest with an “anarchic movement.”  Nevertheless, the rush to the Trademark Office makes one thing abundantly clear: words have value, in more ways than one.  And neither socio-political movements nor capitalist enterprises have a monopoly on that.