Platinum-selling music artist Pitbull has received two trademark registrations for a signature yell used in his music. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued two sound mark registrations, U.S. Reg. Nos. 5877076 and 5877077, for “entertainment services in the nature of live musical performances” and “musical sound recordings; musical video recordings,” respectively. For each registration, the description of the mark reads, “The mark is a sound. The mark consists of a man yelling ‘EEEEEEEYOOOOOO’ in falsetto with ‘E’ drawn out followed by a ‘U’ sound.”
Generally, trademarks are understood to be logos and word marks. While sound marks are not as common, certain sounds are eligible for and do receive trademark protection. According to the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, “A sound mark identifies and distinguishes a product or service through audio rather than visual means. Sound marks function as source indicators when they ‘assume a definitive shape or arrangement’ and ‘create in the hearer’s mind an association of the sound’ with a good or service.” TMEP § 1202.15 (citing In re Gen. Electric Broad. Co., 199 USPQ 560, 563 (TTAB 1978)).
In the past year, there has been a notable increase in the number of musicians seeking to register trademarks. For example, artist Cardi B sought to register “Okurrrr,” a sound many have come to associate with the rapper’s larger-than-life persona. Similarly, Megan Thee Stallion, coming off the success of her number-one song “Hot Girl Summer,” applied to register “HOT GIRL SUMMER” for various entertainment services. These artists, however, did not attempt to register a sound mark in the way Pitbull did.
What stands out most about Pitbull’s newly protected sound is that the rapper has not used his yell in the same commercial context as other registered sound marks. For example, commercial jingles and product chimes (consider the “start up” and “shut down” sounds from your favorite device) are a common area for sound mark protection because they can be distinctive enough to indicate to a listener that a particular good or service comes from a particular source. While Pitbull’s entrepreneurial endeavors have extended beyond music, Pitbull’s yell is almost exclusively used in his song recordings.
Pitbull’s particular use and subsequent registration may prove to be another tool for musicians in developing, managing and monetizing intellectual property rights. Producer tags or DJ tags, for example, could be an area ripe for sound mark registration, as they tend to indicate a given producer’s services. Still, success in obtaining a sound mark registration depends on a number of factors, including the sound’s distinctiveness and the quality of the specimen submitted to the USPTO.
It remains to be seen how Pitbull’s registrations will affect future use of his signature yell. We could hear “EEEEEEEYOOOOOO!” used in far more than just music recordings. Either way, these registrations stand to affect the future of sound marks, as we may see a rise in applications and registrations for sound marks rooted not just in commercial jingles but also in musical works.