American typo: how Trump’s COVFEFE Twitter error inspired dozens of trademarks and product launches 23 Aug 17
When US president Donald Trump mistakenly posted the typo ‘covfefe’ on Twitter in May, it quickly went viral and led to over 50 trademark filings across the globe. In the months since, a number of those applications have reached registration, with one applicant telling World Trademark Review that he is confident a brand name featuring the seven-letter misspelling will be a catalyst for business success.
In the early hours of May 31, Donald Trump tweeted: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”. The message, which was not deleted until six hours later, baffled the president’s over 31 million followers and quickly turned into an internet meme. The Merrian-Webster dictionary, for example, led the fray with a post addressing the typo which garnered nearly 100,000 retweets. The domain ‘covfefe.com’ was snapped up within minutes and currently sells merchandise using the term, and the tweet was covered with bemusement by mainstream media outlets including CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. When Trump addressed the mistake by asking “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’?” shortly after the original tweet was deleted, it was assumed the typo would be forgotten in time.
But as so regularly happens with terms that go viral, a number of individuals were quick to claim rights to it. To date there has been at least 58 trademark applications filed for COVFEFE around the world, most of which were filed within two weeks of Trump’s infamous post. Of those, 36 were filed at the US trademark office, with a further six in Switzerland, five in Germany, two in Italy, Sweden and the UK and one in France, Korea, Malaysia, Norway and Slovenia.
In the US, most of the applications received their first office action from the USPTO in the past 10 days. Many of the applicants have been told that registration is refused because “the applied-for mark merely conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message; it does not function as a trademark or service mark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and to identify and distinguish them from others”. Going further, the USPTO has observed that the word “is commonly used to refer to a term written by the President of the United States in a tweet”, and links to a long list of sources which reference the typo, concluding: “Because consumers are accustomed to seeing this slogan or term commonly used in everyday speech by many different sources, the public will not perceive the term or slogan as a trademark or service mark that identifies the source of applicant’s goods, but rather only as conveying an informational message.”
The picture is different at other IP offices, where applications in Sweden, Switzerland and the UK have all reached registration. The applicant of the Swedish trademark is Per Holknekt, an entrepreneur who spoke in June about how he has his “trademark radar switched on round the clock”, and when asked about how he would use the COVFEFE term commercially, added that “all the marketing has already been done by the media – it's superb”. What exactly those plans are remains unclear, but the classes he has secured rights in include coffee, clothing and advertising. In the UK, the trademark is owned by Bristol resident Christopher Chesterman (incidentally, a senior associate in the Bristol office of law firm Burges Salmon is called Chris Chesterman – although we were unable to confirm whether he is the applicant). That mark was added to the UK register last week in class 32 for beers/ales, and Chesterman may have some enforcement work to conduct from the outset as ‘RateMyBeer.com’ claims there are at least eight beers being sold with COVFEFE in the name.
Perhaps the most audacious plans for the COVFEFE term is related to the third registered mark, which entered the Switzerland register on July 4. Owned by another entrepreneur, Tim Saciri, it covers goods and services in classes 25 (clothing) and 40 (treatment of materials), with another five (currently unregistered) marks filed in other classes. His ownership of the mark was reported by the local press in Switzerland, where he spoke of plans to launch two products under the Covfefe brand: an energy drink and clothing items. There are also promises to release more details on the brand’s website, ‘covfefetm.com’, early next month.
Speaking with World Trademark Review, Saciri – a 36-year-old inventor of a patented dog bite guard – revealed ambitious plans to release the beverage product internationally. “My inspiration to create an energy drink is simple,” he explained. “For me, Covfefe is so mysterious; the moment when the president made the post public, it was late and he was tired. Therefore, I see it as something that is logical to create marketing worldwide for an energy drink that is synonymous with avoiding making mistakes when you are tired.”
Saciri’s planned marketing activity doesn’t shy away from including the US president. He has commissioned a short trailer which features Trump in the Oval Office receiving a call from NASA about a UFO (one of the pending applications is a logo featuring an alien figure). He confirms that Trump “is aware that I asked to protect this word”, but when asked if he has been in contact with parties related to Trump (either those in his administration or real estate business) he told us that he “can't answer yes or no”, but added that “a package” will be sent to the White House on the day of the energy drink’s launch next month.
When asked about the 50 other applicants of Covfefe-related trademarks, and indeed the hundreds more selling products linked to the typo, Saciri pledged to be ‘firm but fair’. “You know, I'm not the type to annoy others, but if I see that a lot of things are selling on the internet [using the term] then I'll get my lawyers to stop them,” he says, but followed up by adding: “Personally I think I'll let people sell whatever they want, after all they have to enjoy it too! But what interests me is my energy drink and, if later I see that the figures are huge in the fashion business, then that discussion may change.”
It is sometimes incomprehensible how off-the-cuff remarks, especially in a political context, inspire individuals to spend hundreds of dollars on trademark applications. Indeed, Forrest Firm attorney at law Ed Timberlake has collated over 600 examples of filings related to recent US political events, many of which are quotes said by Trump at rallies (eg, DRAIN THE SWAMP) or debates (eg, NASTY WOMAN). For the USPTO, it has proven to be a challenge, with the vast majority of politically inspired applications never reaching registration. But for Trump, it is somewhat ironic that a word he did not mean to communicate (unless the conspiracy theories are true) has inspired the most IP activity.
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