Pop! Goes the Trademark: IP in Popular Culture (Part 1)

Pop! Goes the Trademark: IP in Popular Culture (Part 1)

Trademarks pop up where we least expect them to. In popular culture, amusing catchphrases or funny slogans made popular by social media culture on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram may appear as the latest ‘meme sensation’ – but did you know these catchphrases and slogans can also be monetised by individuals who created them? 

Trademarks can be extremely valuable especially when marks acquire a special reputation or association in the public sphere. In the era of social media, interesting snippets going viral on the internet, be it a quick clip on YouTube or a still image on Facebook, have the potential to become commodities due to gaining public recognition rapidly. In turn, these snippets quickly cement themselves into the cultural sphere and language, making them perfect tools for individuals or businesses who wish to profit off their popularity. 

A trademark can be many things: a name, word, logo, slogan or a combination of these. Which catchphrases then, have been filed as a trademark in pop culture? 

The 00s Icon: Paris Hilton ‘That’s Hot’

American businesswoman and socialite Paris Hilton made a name for herself in the early 2000s through various ventures, most prominently by starring on reality tv show The Simple Life with fellow socialite Nicole Ritche. Hilton’s media image was successful and influential in making cultural waves. Her dress sense was emulated and copied by young women worldwide, giving rise to the popularity of velour tracksuits and low rise bottoms in the 00s. 

Of course, it was more than Hilton’s fashion that the public bought into. Her persona was anchored by a curated personality and characterised by several phrases that made Paris Hilton memorable in the public eye. One of Hilton’s catchy phrases, ‘That’s hot,’ which signified her taking a liking to something, spread pervasively into the lexicon of the average person whether they watched The Simple Life or not. Hilton became a reference for the phrase and soon enough, ‘That’s hot’ became iconic to her image. 

Hilton’s manager of 10 years, Jason Moore, was the one who thought it wise for her to trademark the phrase ‘That’s hot.’ Moore revealed in an interview with CNN that he ‘recognised that [Paris Hilton] was a brand’ and subsequently suggested to Hilton to begin the process of legally claiming her catchphrases. Moore’s ideas on commodifying the Paris Hilton persona, ‘famous for being famous,’ was fresh for its time. He states: 

‘I took all the theory in pop culture that I already learned and started to realize if Barbie could actually talk, that would be the biggest brand in the world. And the name became Paris Hilton.’

source: CNN

Paris Hilton, the carefully curated media darling, is iconic precisely because she was the first and few to have successfully marketed herself as the unique persona we identify in our cultural landscape today as social media influencers. ‘That’s hot’ was successfully registered as a trademark in 2007. Hilton’s venture into intellectual property paid off, as she challenged Hallmark for trademark infringement relating to one of their cards and subsequently won the case in 2010

Stay tuned for Part Two of Pop! Goes The Trademark: IP in Popular Culture as we will be exploring American TV personality and businesswoman Kylie Jenner’s trademark adventures.

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