Obtaining a trademark for your race can, in most cases, provide a fairly straightforward and effective protection for some aspects of your event’s identity, such as your event’s name, logo or tagline.
Trademarks can stop others from using your event’s unique marks to identify their events (either deliberately or inadvertently) and help strengthen your brand in the marketplace.
In the rest of this article, we’ll look at what a trademark is, what aspects of your event can and cannot be trademarked, and what you should expect of the trademark registration process in your jurisdiction.
So, what is a trademark?
A trademark is a distinctive name, logo, phrase, symbol, image, design or sound that helps people identify your product, service or business in the marketplace.
So, the name “IRONMAN” is a trademark owned by the Word Triathlon Corporation that helps people identify IRONMAN events with the specific type of long-distance triathlon races organized by the company. The IRONMAN logo is another such trademark that serves the same purpose:
No other company can legally call their long-distance triathlon event IRONMAN, nor can they use the distinctive red IRONMAN figure in their communications to customers.
Trademarks are treated as property under law and who actually owns a trademark can be determined in one of two ways:
- Registration of the trademark in the relevant trademarks registry or office (most countries have one)
- Use of the trademark in the marketplace, i.e. by a company using the trademark to sell products or services
Regardless of how a trademark is established, if rights to a trademark are to be maintained over time, the trademark needs to continue to be used in the marketplace for trading. So it you don’t use a trademark for some time, you can end up losing your rights over it.
What can and cannot be trademarked?
When it comes to races and other events, not everything can be trademarked. In fact, only very specific things can be trademarked – for everything else, there might be other copyright or IP protections that may apply, but these fall outside trademark law.
In most jurisdictions, the following aspects of an event can be trademarked:
- The event name
- The event logo
- The event tagline or slogan
- Combinations of logos, graphics and words/phrases
In contrast, the following cannot be trademarked:
- The event “concept”, e.g. the concept of an obstacle or colour run
- The event or venue layout
- Specific activities within the event
Even around aspects of the event that can be trademarked, restrictions apply.
For example, you cannot trademark a name or phrase that is overly generic, purely descriptive or in common use. The whole point of a trademark is to provide a distinct link to identifying a product or service in the market. So words or phrases that might be commonly used to describe a product (like the word “run” for a running event) cannot be trademarked.
“The Color Run” is a very interesting case in point here.
The name “The Color Run” is a registered trademark of The Color Run, LLC. That is because the company registered the color run as a trademark when the term was still distinct and was used solely to identify it with The Color Run event.
Should the company not have trademarked the term when they did, they would very likely have struggled to do so after more color run events popped up. That is because what was originally a term distinctly associated with The Color Run series of color runs went to being a generic term that is used to describe any type of color run, i.e. any event that uses some kind of color powder as part of the experience.
Not that the trademark on the name “The Color Run” would stop you from organizing your own color run event. But you just can’t call it “The Color Run”. Same as if you wanted to organize a marathon in New York City. You can go ahead and do that – you just can’t call it “NYC Marathon”.
How can I trademark my event name or logo?
Trademarking you event name, logo or combinations thereof can be a lot easier that you might imagine. But it will still take some time to do your research and go through the process.
Searching for a trademark
In most jurisdictions, trademarks are registered under specific classes representing different categories of products and services. So the first thing you should do in obtaining a trademark is search the relevant class in the trademarks database in your jurisdiction for the trademark or trademarks you want to register.
If you are registering a trademark in a country that subscribes to the International Classification of Goods and Services (which covers pretty much most of the world), the trademarks class that is relevant for your race is Class 41, which covers all services “providing training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities”.
Depending on where you want to register your trademark, you can search the following databases:
- US: Search the USPTO trademarks database. Mind that the USPTO trademarks database contains only trademarks filed at the federal level. For state-level trademarks, you should also search the respective state trademarks databases.
- UK: Do a phrase or word search for your trademark on the UK IPO website.
- EU countries: Use the TMview website to search for trademarks filed at both the national and EU levels, all in one place.
Applying for a trademark
Once you are satisfied the trademark you’re looking to register has not been registered already, you can file an application to register the trademark under your company’s or organization’s name.
If you are registering a trademark in the US, you can file your application online here. Fees start at $275 per trademark per class. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, you can expect to receive a response to your application within six months of filing.
If you’re based in the UK, you can apply for your trademark registration here. The cost of the application is £200 per trademark per class + £50 for any additional classes you may want to register under. If there are no objections or challenges to your trademark application, you should expect to obtain your trademark within about four months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I need a lawyer to file my trademark?
Well, that’s a question only a lawyer can answer 🙂 But most people in our race directors group who have filed for a trademark for their race have done it on their own.
What is the difference between a registered and an unregistered trademark?
Unregistered trademarks, often designated by the use of a (TM) symbol, are trademarks established through use of the mark in the marketplace.
Registered trademarks, designated by the use of the (R) symbol, are trademarks that have been officially registered and validated by a relevant trademarks office.
Registered trademarks generally afford greater legal protection than unregistered trademarks.
What can I do if someone starts using my trademark?
If another race starts using one of your trademarks, whether the trademark has been registered or not, you can take action to protect your rights. In fact, not taking action could undermine your case in defending your rights to that trademark in the future.
If you’re tried reaching out to the offending race and had no response, or you have found the response you received inadequate, contact a lawyer specialising in trademark law. They should be able to advise on next steps (usually involving a cease-and-desist letter as a first step).
READ NEXT: Race Insurance: Know Your Options →