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Companies may be seeing red ink as the economy slumps downward in early 2008, but 2007 was all green as far as trademarks were concerned. It was the busiest year ever for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with new applications at a record high, and environmentally conscious “green” branding leading the surge. Applications for new trademarks topped the 300,000 mark for the first time ever during calendar year 2007, beating the previous high of 289,000 set during the Internet bubble year of 2000. (The first material downturn in filings did not appear until March 2008, when negative economic portents became inescapable.) Each new application represents a potential brand name, logo or tag line for a new business, product launch or ad campaign. Thus, the demand for new trademarks offers a crystal ball into future marketing plans, and tends to reflect larger economic and social trends. EVERY DAY WAS EARTH DAY Earth Day 2008 brought a flood of advertising and promotion from companies eager to emphasize their concern for the environment, but the wave began forming long before at the PTO, which received a surge of applications for eco-conscious marks in 2007. The result was green gridlock, with multiple companies filing for almost-identical marks at nearly the same time. Clearly, it’s not easy being green — since a trademark by definition is a distinctive term that tells consumers that a product or service comes from a single source, many of these me-too filings either will not merit legal protection or will be very weak trademarks. Not surprisingly, the word “green” was the most popular vehicle for communicating environmental friendliness. Applications more than doubled in 2007, increasing from 1,100 to more than 2,400. In fact, it was the third year in a row in which “green” branding far outpaced the overall increase in applications, following a 37 percent increase in 2006 and a 23 percent gain in 2005. Originality was not always the watchword, however: The phrase “Go green,” for example, appeared in various forms in more than 100 different proposed marks. Some businesses tried to expand the color palette, only to find that they, too, had company: Four different applicants sought trademark registration for “Green is the new black” for apparel or tote bags, and two different companies filed for “Blue is the new green,” one for irrigation systems and the other for water conservation publications. A similar theme appeared in applications for “Blue is green” (for seafood), “Where blue meets green” (natural gas), “Blue water for a green world” (wastewater treatment), “Red states, blue states, green states” (television programs) and “Blue green & beyond” (filed by Bed Bath & Beyond). Interest in the word “clean” went hand-in-hand with “green,” with more than 900 applications in 2007, up from 800 in 2006. The words “green” and “clean” appeared together in 74 would-be trademarks, including multiple filings for “Green clean,” “Green is clean” and “Clean & green” from various companies offering soaps, household cleansers, pet shampoo, toilet paper, carpet cleaning, janitorial services, car washes and the “evaluation of investment risks and opportunities involved in corporate environmental policies.” Not surprisingly, “clean” appeared with “fuel, “energy” and “power” in more than 50 different marks. Six different companies applied to register “ecoclean” (for cleaning services, carpet cleaning, dry cleaning, kitchen appliances, aromatherapy and oil well fluids), and four others filed for “bioclean” for a similar array of products. “Green” and “clean” had a particular appeal because it’s easier to coin a short brand name or concise tagline with a one-syllable word than a long word. The two-syllable prefix “eco” was also hot in 2007, more than doubling in popularity to nearly 900 new applications. In fact, if all the new “eco”-branded products filed in 2007 actually came to market, an “Eco citizen” could buy an “Ecohouse” in “Ecotown” from an “Eco realtor.” Covered in “Ecostucco” and topped with an “Ecoroof,” the house would be equipped with an “Eco Heater,” “Eco Hangers” in the “Eco Closet,” an “Eco John” and “Eco Shower” (accompanied by “Eco Towels”), and an “Eco Rug” on the floor. You could rest your head on your “Ecosoft Eco Pillow” and get some “Eco-sleep” in your “Ecosnug” bed under an “Eco Blanket,” with “Eco Linens” made of “Eco Flannel” on your “Eco Mattress.” Next to your backyard “Eco Pool,” you could mow your “Eco Lawn” with an “Ecomower,” and water your “Eco Plants” and “Eco Flowers” with an “Eco Hose.” Your “Eco Baby” could play with “Eco Dolls,” while you sent your “Eco Tots” off to “Eco Childcare” with an “Eco Lunch,” including an “Eco Apple” “Ecomilk” and “Eco Yummy” snacks. Your “Ecodude” teenager would wear “Eco Threads” made of “Eco Denim” and “Eco Down” as he rode his “Ecobike” to “Ecoschool.” On a big night out, you could put on your “Ecouture,” your “Eco Jewelry,” “Eco Sexy” cosmetics, and “Eco Chic” perfume, go partying at the “Ecolounge” — and perhaps be stalked by “Ecorazzi.” On the weekend, you could go fishing for “Ecosalmon,” get some “Eco-Lifecoaching” or play “Eco Golf” (but don’t forget your “Eco-brella” if it’s raining). Or you could pack your “Ecobags” and fly an “Eco Airline” through the “Eco Skies” to an “Ecosafari.” Perhaps you’d just relax with a cup of “Eco-Joe” until you buy more “Ecogear” at the “Eco Shoppe.” It would be the ideal “Ecolife” for an “Ecogeek” in an “Ecotopia — until you were laid to rest in an “Ecocoffin.” The lengthier word “environment” lends itself less readily to branding, but applications containing some form of that word nevertheless increased dramatically, jumping past 450 in 2007, up from 325 the year before. Many marks avoided using the entire word, and instead paired the prefix “enviro-” with a suffix that communicated something about the product — “Envirosax” for reuseable shopping bags, “Envirostone” for recycled building materials and “Envirogroom” for pet shampoo, for example. Some companies chose to communicate their concern for a cleaner earth by referring to it in their brand names and taglines. Applications for marks incorporating the word “earth” showed a large increase, jumping by about 60 percent from 550 to more than 900. “Planet” was a popular alternative, up by 45 percent from 275 to more than 400. “Globe/global” also showed a significant jump, up by 36 percent. Prospective brand owners were feeling very “friendly” in 2007, with trademark applications containing that word increasing by 88 percent. Environmentally oriented marks accounted for much of the gain: Thirty out of 180 filings contained the phrase “eco-friendly” and another 30 incorporated “earth friendly.” However, “friendly” has also become a popular vehicle outside the green realm, with such marks as “Body friendly” for apparel, “School friendly” for snack foods, “Age friendly” for computer games, “Women friendly” for sales training seminars, and “Female friendly” for auto dealerships. Not surprisingly, the word “energy” saw a 37 percent increase in 2007, increasing from 875 filings to nearly 1,200. However, not all of the applications related to sources of energy or products that consume energy more efficiently. Almost one-third of the filings were for marks for energy drinks, nutritional supplements and other food and beverage products that promise a shot of caffeine or another boost to the system. The concern about shrinking ice caps was reflected in a variety of “global warming” applications, including “Global Warmin’ Norman” for dolls and plush toys and “An Inconvenient Booth” for trade show marketing seminars. Does all this mean that marketers think consumers will view conspicuous consumption as less fashionable? If so, companies don’t seem more eager to explicitly communicate that they have downsized their products from XXL to SM. The increase in applications for marks containing the word “small” was no greater than the overall 10 percent increase in filings. In fact, the word “big” appeared in more than three times as many marks as “small.” Then again, “small” is gaining on “big” and “large,” both of which were essentially flat in popularity compared with 2006. If living “large” was still okay, too much boasting was out of fashion — the word “giant” was 25% less popular in 2007 than in 2006. Glenn A. Gundersen is a partner in the Philadelphia office of Dechert, the author of “Trademark Searching” ( International Trademark Association, 2d ed. 2000) and a co-author of “Intellectual Property in Mergers & Acquisitions” ( John Wiley 2001).

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