Yes, sometimes a sound is so closely associated with a business or is intended to be such a brand identifier it can be trademarked.
To qualify to be registered as a trademark, the sound must be used or intended to be used as a brand identifier – something that consumers will hear and recognize as being connected with a particular brand and only that particular brand.
Sounds that can be registered include sounds that are purely instrumental or sound effects, purely vocals, or a combination of those.
There are some sounds that can’t be registered as trademarks, though, because sound trademarks are subject to the same requirements as “regular” word or design trademarks. To be registered, sounds must not be:
- Generic or commonplace, like the sound of a train whistle or someone saying “car wash” in a plain voice, or
- Purely functional, meaning they’re essential to how the goods/services are used or operate, like the sounds of a keyboard clacking when someone is typing.
Usually, sounds that can be registered as trademarks are fairly short. Something as long as a song is more appropriately protected through copyright registration.
Some examples of sound trademarks most everyone will recognize are:
- The MGM lion roar
- The Looney Tunes theme song
- The three-note NBC chime
- The music for a 20th Century Fox production card link
- The Intel chimes
- The six-note ESPN sound
- Nationwide Mutual Insurance’s “Nationwide is on your side” jingle
- The Pillsbury Doughboy giggle
- Homer Simpson’s “D’OH”
- And for those of you in the Midwest, the Menard’s “Save big money at Menard’s” jingle (you’re welcome for the earworm)
It isn’t easy to get a sound registered as a trademark. Sometimes, copyright registration is the only available means of protection until the sound truly becomes instantly recognizable as tied to a brand. Using the services of a seasoned trademark attorney is recommended.
To learn more about out trademark services, go to https://kingpatentlaw.com/trademarks/
For some more sound trademark examples, check out https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/soundmarks/trademark-sound-mark-examples