Although sounds are included in the types of marks that can be registered, traditionally, trademarking sounds has been very difficult and sometimes burdensome for trademark agencies to protect. The first known record of a trademark of this kind is from the early 1970s, by the American news company NBCS. This company fought an uphill battle but successfully trademarked the sound that was played when switching through different segments of their radio recordings.
This process used to have an extremely low success rate and required sometimes more than seven revisions before it could be fully registered. It was not until 1990 when an international legal agreement between the member nations of the World Trade Organization set a more feasible standard for the revision of these categories of trademarks.
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office lists these criteria that must be fulfilled in an application for a sound trademark:
- It must specifically state that the trademark application is for the registration of a sound mark.
- It must contain a description of the sound (i.e., either a listing of the notes in the sound, or the recognizable equivalent of the sound such as an animal noise).
- It must provide an electronic recording of the sound in MP3 format which may be provided online or, in the case of paper applications, via CD, DVD or USB.
Benefits of Registering a Sound Trademark
Trademarking a sound in this day and age is considered one of the most powerful marketing and engagement tools; we can see it globally across all fields. The University of Amsterdam determined that associating a sound to a product or brand can trigger a much more elevated response from consumers, due to the fact that it is much easier to form an emotional connection with a melody or sound than with a picture.
Most of us may have experienced the power of sound branding in one form or another. It could have happened in the form of a small smile or sense of relief triggered by hearing the classical windows or apple start up notification when we turn on an old computer and see it start up.
As a child, I fondly remember the commercial themes or the music that toy companies would use to advertise their products on television. The greatest power that sound-branding holds is the subconscious association that it can form in our brains.
Physical reactions can even be triggered by sound branding and relating a specific sound to an action, feeling or need. We have all seen kids run towards an ice cream truck.
The noise that is trademarked by them literally causes their customers to run to them to purchase their product.
This may be one of the most extreme physical reactions that we can see and take as an example of the power of sound branding and it should definitely open your eyes to the kind of marketing potential that these kinds of brands can hold.
Types of Sound Trademarks
Sound branding is a strategy commonly used by companies to associate their products or brand to a specific sound, chime or tune. These sounds can define a trademark, as do for instance the opening tune for McDonalds or the startup sound when you turn on your computer.
Sound branding is a long-researched topic that has been reported to assist in brand awareness, product differentiation and even increasing sales due to familiarity. Let’s go over the different categories within sound branding that can account for the majority of trademarking requests:
Sound logos: A short distinctive melody or sequence of sound; you would hear them in the beginning or at the end of a commercial. This is currently considered as an equivalent to a visual logo.
A very interesting case of a sound logo is the sound that a V-Twin Harley Davidson engine makes. This was coined and trademarked by the company in the mid 1990s and is considered to be part of the appeal that these motorcycles have with their potential buyers and to differentiate it from other motorcycles or engines within the market.
Sound logos are by far one of the most useful tools that a brand can utilize to develop emotional connections to their customers when they hear or see the logos or sounds of the company or product.
Environmental sound designs: Custom ambient soundscapes that aim to transform or create an experience. Large brand retailers may use these soundtracks or sounds in their grocery stores or retailers to create a more pleasant shopping experience for their customers.
In retail environments, sound branding extends to the use of sound in order to enhance the consumer experience and influence behavior. An academic study that took place in a Scotland supermarket found that sales of wines displayed side-by-side and priced similarly could be greatly manipulated by the music playing in the supermarket. On days when French music played, French wines outsold German wines ; the reverse also proved true.
Branding sound technology: In this category we will mainly focus on laptop, ATM and mobile sounds that add to the user experience. A good example of this can be seen in ringtones, chimes and even on-hold messages that are played for customers. It is estimated by a study done by PHMG that roughly 76% of customers feel less anxious while on hold if they are listening to music.
Audio-augmented tasks: Voice-activated, hands-free communication are examples of technologies that focus on saving time and can potentially make operations safer.
For instance, as a practical solution at work, an Ohio producer and distributor of pet supply products adopted a voice-based solution to replace paper-based picking; this led to productivity improvements in this process, and even helped the company achieve near-perfect accuracy for shipping operations. This small improvement and automation of a patent sound saved the company tens of thousands of dollars and helped improve their overall performance.
Trademarking a sound can cause a large impact on your customer base and it has proven to be one of the most effective methods to establish a more meaningful connection with consumers. We have outlined several examples of this phenomenon that we can see in our day-to-day life. Sound branding is not just an added benefit, but it forms part of the identity of the brand and further escalates its reach and customer engagement.
Sound trademarks have a long and rich history of success and failure. It is important to take into consideration that actioning these brands requires a sharp eye and sometimes more effort when compared to regular trademarking. However, the reward definitely pays off and increases the reach of the company's brand tenfold.
Every successful and modern company has trademarked sound at least once or twice during their lifecycle. It is a worthy pursuit and definitely worth reading into. We would suggest that you research the history of these trademarks and how companies have used them to better engage their public.
If you have an interest in registering a trademark but do not know where to start, contact us now! Our team of experts in trademarks will provide you with all the information you need!
Author: Solange Ramirez, Trademark Consultant @ iGERENT.com