Nope. You Can’t Do That Either.

What if you wanted to sell a T-shirt that has the NASA® meatball but with the word NASA replaced with NERD. Would that be OK? If you searched the Trademark Office database, you wouldn’t find a trademark registration for the meatball, so does that mean you can use it?

We’ve already seen that people and companies can have trademark rights without having a registration. But you have a bigger problem than common law rights when it comes to NASA and its meatball.

First, you for sure can’t get a registration because the Trademark Office will refuse registration for any trademark that “falsely suggests a connection with . . . [a] national symbol . . ..”* So, unless you actually are NASA, just forget about getting a registration.

But that’s just the beginning of your problems. You just flat out can’t use this as a trademark, even without a registration. There are lots of statutes out there that specifically prohibit the use of certain words and symbols as trademarks, for example:**

  • Red Cross and the red cross symbol
  • FBI
  • Smokey Bear
  • 4-H Club
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
  • Olympics
  • the copyright symbol ©.

In short, you really need to stay away from this stuff. The T-shirt in the picture was for sale at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Maybe the company that made the T-shirt had a license from NASA. I sure hope it did.


*15 U.S.C. §1052(a)

**This website has a more complete list.

Meatballs and Worms

Logos are like pets. Their owners give them cute little names or, sometimes, when their owners don’t bother, other people give them not-so-cute names.

NASA_Worm_logo.svgNASA stopped using the “worm” . . .




. . . and started using the “meatball.”


BMW Roundel


BMW® calls the symbol on its hood, the “roundel”, which is pretty boring, because it’s a . . . roundel.






This little guy from Pixar® is called “Luxo, Jr.” Luxo® is a registered trademark for lamps owned by Glamox AS.




The United States Postal Service® went from using the “standing”eagle to the “sonic” eagle in 1993.sonic-eagle




The “Diving Girl” has been used on Jantzen® swimwear since 1920.diving-girl

Chevy Bowtie


Chevrolet® refers to its logo as the “bowtie.”

Amtrak pointless arrow


Then there’s the hilariously named Amtrak® “pointless arrow.”



And what roundup would be complete without a visit from the Beeline® “happy bee”?