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.
You can NOT register a trademark that includes the flag of the United States, any state, or any foreign nation. So the stuff to the left are no-nos.
So far, so good.
The 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.
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.
- 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.
If you didn’t enjoy this, blame Julie W. She suggested I write about it.
 15 U.S.C. §1052 (b)
 There’s a non-exhaustive list of these statutes here: https://tmep.uspto.gov/RDMS/TMEP/current#/current/TMEP-Cd1e1.html
 Here are the answers to the quiz.