Flags and National Symbols

Let me tell you about an arcane crevice of the law that covers flags and national symbols as trademarks.

Have I lost you already? Oh, c’mon. It’ll be fun. There are pictures. And a quiz at the end!

Great. Let’s go.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 4.14.31 PM.png


You can NOT register a trademark that includes the flag of the United States, any state, or any foreign nation.[1]  So the stuff to the left are no-nos.

So far, so good.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 2.50.26 PM.pngThe trademark to the right is OK, because you CAN register a flag if:

  • it’s substantially obscured by words or designs,
  • it’s used to form a letter, number, or design,
  • it’s not in a shape normally seen in flags,
  • it appears in a color different from the national flag, or
  • a significant feature is missing or changed.

You CAN register a trademark that contains a monument, statue, or building associated with a country. So, each of these is OK.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 3.58.43 PM.png

Still with me?

There are more than 150 statutes that prohibit use of certain other stuff as a trademark, for example: Boy Scouts of America, CIA, F.B.I., Four-H Club, Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute, Little League, Woodsy Owl.[2]

To summarize:

  • You can NOT register a flag of the U.S., state, or foreign country;
  • You CAN register a trademark with a flag as long as it’s hidden or weird somehow;
  • You CAN register a non-flag national symbol;
  • You can NOT register national symbols if there’s a statute that says you can’t.

Quiz time! Which of these can be registered? Answers are below.[3]

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 4.07.06 PM.png


If you didn’t enjoy this, blame Julie W. She suggested I write about it.



[1] 15 U.S.C. §1052 (b)

[2] There’s a non-exhaustive list of these statutes here: https://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/TMEP/current#/current/TMEP-Cd1e1.html

[3]  Here are the answers to the quiz.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 4.11.16 PM.png

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