Words and pictures are so 2017. This year, it is all about the non-traditional trademarks (i.e., something other than brand names and images). In the past, we’ve covered a variety of these types of trademarks, from colors to product shapes, to sounds and even the touch of a product. Even looking only at college football, there are registered marks for the color of a field, player uniforms, and fan chants.

And 2018 has already given us a new category: hand gestures. Music and fashion mogul Shawn Carter (also known as Jay-Z) recently applied to register the hand gesture below for entertainment services.

According to one origin story, the image of a diamond was meant as a reference to the slang term “rock” for diamonds. Jay-Z’s record label is Roc-A-Fella Records, and using the hand symbol has come to be known as “throwing up the roc.”

Whether due to Jay-Z’s popularity or due to the calorie burning benefits of raising your arms briefly, the symbol has become a bit ubiquitous in popular culture. Everyone from Aaron Rodriguez, Fran Drescher, to Warren Buffet and others are documented roc-throwers. But nobody can do it quite like Hov himself:

Also worth adding to the list is professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. He’s been throwing the roc since the ’90s:

Although his gesture is just a little bit different, with his fingers extended. Also, he refers to his symbol as the diamond cutter. He also has already registered a version of the gesture (shown below) as a trademark for various clothing items.

And, come to think of it, he sued Jay-Z over the symbol years ago. Although there isn’t much information available, it appears the case settled out of court with Jay-Z making a payment of an undisclosed amount (to keep it fair and balanced, there is a wrestling source and a hip hop source).

As of yet, no word on whether Diamond Dallas Page will take action against Jay-Z’s trademark application. Perhaps the settlement between the parties prevents him from doing so. But if so, then why did Jay-Z wait for nearly a decade to file his own trademark application? And although the Diamond Cutter was registered as a trademark, should either celebrity own enforceable rights in a hand gesture? Does it really signify source? Or does it remind us of something in a non-trademark manner, like trash compactors remind me of Star Wars or triangles remind me of the White Stripes?

And I would be remiss to not mention the elephant in the room: the conspiracy theory that Jay-Z along with many other musicians, politicians, and others are part of a secret society of the illuminati, freemasons, or (more recently) Taco Bell. Fingers crossed the Trademark Office utilizes her power to issue a Request for Information to demand that Jay-Z answer once and for all whether he is, in fact, a member of the Illuminati.

–Dan Kelly, Attorney


Remarkably, this is not a new promotion for World Wrestling Entertainment.  No, a few outlets reported last week that WWE has opposed The American Wine Foundation’s application to register the trademark SOMMELIER SMACKDOWN for use in connection with “Entertainment services, namely, conducting contests in the field of food and wine pairing; Entertainment services, namely, wine and food tastings at which attendants taste food and wine pairings to determine which wine expert better pairs food and wines.”  For those pop-culturally challenged among you (as I sometimes am), WWE owns several registrations for SMACKDOWN for use in connection with entertainment services, namely, wrestling events.

As reported at SFGate, a spokesman for WWE claims that WWE coined the term “smackdown.”  That’s a big claim, and one easily exploded by reviewing the voluminous evidence produced by the Trademark Office in the course of WWE’s prosecution of an early application for SMACKDOWN demonstrating widespread use of the term in connection with sports that predates WWE’s first use of the term (1999) and its claimed date of coining (1998, by Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a, “The Rock”).  WWE dodged the descriptiveness issue by arguing in the alternative that it had acquired trademark distinctiveness in SMACKDOWN as applied to its entertainment services.

This promises to be an interesting case, as there appear to be factors that favor both sides.  For WWE, the SMACKDOWN mark appears fairly strong, despite its descriptive roots.  For the Wine Foundation, I suspect that it will be able to make a good case that its entertainment services appeal to an entirely different consumer market than WWE’s entertainment services.  (WWE has also argued that the Wine Foundation’s mark dilutes its SMACKDOWN mark–an issue that also may have legs.)  For the time being, we’ll watch to see if this match goes more than one round.

*LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE® is a registered trademark of Ready to Rumble, LLC.