Research on #BlackLivesMatter and Trademark Law Brings BECA Professor Multiple Honors

Author: Department of BECA
September 19, 2022

Attempts to register “Black Lives Matter” have been rebuffed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). BECA Associate Professor Miriam Smith wanted to know why. “Copyright and trademark law were my favorite subjects in law school,” she said, “so, it was only natural that I should look into what happens when an iconic phrase visits the USPTO.”


“Widely-used phrases are not granted trademark protection because a trademark MUST identify its source AND function as a trademark. Black Lives Matter identifies so much more than the source of a product,” she explained. “It was also first used to comfort and then to rally people to action. If one wants to ‘own’ a phrase, they must register for protection BEFORE the phrase released to the public AND the phrase must be connected to a good or service in commerce.”


“The first amazing part of this research journey was to be invited to discuss my paper at a national law symposium. Only two papers were presented, mine and one on copyright law,” Smith said. “Even more inspiring was the fact that one of other speakers was the Register of Copyrights, Shira Perlmutter, the top copyright person in the country!”


“Next came all the revisions until I had a suitable version for publication. Imagine a phalanx of law students poring over every word and verifying every citation, it was intense,” Smith said. “But the result is an article published in the Quarterly Journal of the top intellectual property law society, the venerated American Intellectual Property Law Society. All in all, a good outcome for several years work,” she said.

Miriam Smith

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