Can Corporations Own Common Words and Phrases?
McDonalds hard at work patenting ... the English language
by Sally Hardcastle, BBC
The fast food chain McDonalds has long been seen as a company that wants to spread its territory all over the globe.
It also clearly believes that the world should want to eat more and more of its hamburgers.
Now its ambitions seem to have spread further.
Like any successful company it wants to protect its trademarks, but visitors to the McDonalds website might be surprised at the multiplicity of words and phrases it claims to own - Good Jobs For Good People, for example, or Healthy Growing Up.
According to the company's website, the phrases 'Have You Had Your Break Today?' or 'Hey, It Could Happen' constitute McDonald's trademarks.
They are the property of the McDonald's Corporation, and are only available for non-commercial use.
There are 131 trademarks listed, and many of them were clearly created by McDonalds -- Big Mac, or the Golden Arches logo, for example.
But can a hamburger chain really have cornered the market in the use of the words: Healthy Growing Up, or You Deserve a Break Today?
Trademark attorney Alan McBray from at the Trademark Association in London describes the procedure for registering such phrases:
"There is a little quirk to trademark registration. If you register a trademark and you add to it your own well-known trademark then you would be free to use that particular phrase."
Apparently these ordinary phrases have become precious enough in today's commercial world for them to be protected against use by other companies in advertising or elsewhere.
I checked the websites of other food and drink sellers, to find more bits of the language which might constitute a trademark, and discovered that McDonalds seems to be alone in feeling the need to register such a detailed list.
Coca-Cola puts down product names and makes a general statement about breach of copyright. And that could mean it would be risky to use the old English saying, Life Tastes Good. The soft drink giant currently has that as a slogan.
And I'm pretty sure that Burger King would claim ownership of one of its latest slogans 'Everything New Under The Bun' - but then such a bad pun can't be said to be of much general use -- unlike some other words owned by McDonald's: 'Changing The Face of The World'.
This article was originally published by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).
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