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Famous Sounds That Are Trademarked (+ How to Protect Your Sound)

Andrea Araujo

Andrea Araujo

07 August 20234 min read

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Trademark sound

Here at Trademarkia, we love music as much as helping those who work with it. From a viral sound for TikTok to the intro of a TV program that will impact millions, sound is everything when setting up the ambiance of our lives.

As a musician or music producer, your sound or tune is your unique identity. It sets you apart from other artists and makes your music recognizable to your fans. But did you know you can also register your sound as a trademark in the trademark office? Getting sound trademarks protects your brand and ensures no one else can use your sound without your permission.

Today we'll take a short journey through registering your sound as a trademark and provide some tips to help you do it right. Oh! And we also have some examples of registered sounds that have gone down in history for one reason or another. 

Let's start protecting your sound in 3 steps

Follow this easy step-by-step guide, and you'll be on your way to protecting your sound. Let's begin:

Step 1: choose your sound

The first step to registering your sound, track, tone, or voice as a trademark is choosing the right one. This can be tricky, but selecting a distinctive and memorable sound is essential. Think about what makes your music unique. Is it a particular riff, melody, or chord progression? Is it a specific drum beat or sound effect? 

Whatever it is, make sure it's something that sets you apart from other artists and is easily recognizable.

Step 2: conduct a trademark search

Before registering your sound as a trademark, you must ensure it's available. This means conducting a trademark search to ensure that no other sound marks are registered that sound similar.

Step 3: file your application

Once you've chosen your sound and conducted a trademark search, it's time to file your trademark application in the trademark office. The application will ask you to provide the following:

  1. An audio recording of your trademark sound.
  2. A description of the sound.
  3. How you use it in your music.

Post-filing your sound mark application, you'll likely receive an office action directly from the USPTO. If you receive it, don't panic! You'll have the opportunity to respond and make changes to your application. Trademark registration is a lengthy process. 

This is where having a trademark attorney can be especially helpful, as they can guide you through the process and ensure that your application meets all of the USPTO's requirements.

Need inspiration? Let's look at 5 famous protected sounds

Let's look at 5 of the most famous sounds protected under trademark law. We're sure you know more than one! 

1. The MGM lion's roar

When you hear the roaring lion at the beginning of a movie, you know you're in for a classic. That roar is a sound mark held by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) film studio and has been a part of their logo since 1928. Interestingly, the original lion who roared for MGM was named Jackie, and he made his debut in the 1928 silent film "White Shadows in the South Seas."

2. The NBC chimes

If you've ever watched a show on NBC, you've heard the iconic and sweet three-note chime that plays at the beginning of every broadcast. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) had trademarked those chimes since the 1950s when they were inspired by the famous G-E-C musical notes used in early radio broadcasts. 

3. The Harley-Davidson engine roar

Do you like motorcycles? Then you probably know that the sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is one of those distinctive, unmistakable sounds. The motorcycle manufacturer has trademarked that throaty, rumbling engine roar since 1994. 

The trademark covers the sound of a Harley-Davidson engine revving, as well as the distinctive "potato-potato-potato" idle that's become synonymous with the brand.

4. The Intel Inside jingle

If you've ever owned a computer with an Intel processor, you've probably heard the "Intel Inside" jingle that plays during startup. That jingle has been trademarked by Intel Corporation since 1994 and was composed by Walter Werzowa, who also created the famous "Where's the Beef?" commercial for Wendy's.

5. The Law & Order "chung chung"

Fans of the TV show Law & Order will recognize the distinctive "chung chung" sound that plays after every transition. That sound effect has been trademarked by the show's creator, Dick Wolf, since the early 1990s. Composer Mike Post created the sound and made the themes for TV shows like The A-Team and Hill Street Blues.

Trademark a sound: time to get started 

With all this in mind, it may be time to start protecting your iconic sound. Doing so can prevent a lot of legal hassles down the road and provide you with a valuable intangible as well. Best of luck! 


Are sounds protected as trademarks?

Yes, absolutely. Distinctive sounds can be protected as trademarks. And just like any other trademark, they need to meet specific requirements. For example, sound marks must be distinctive and used in commerce. 

What cannot be trademarked?

would not be able to be trademarked as they'd have to be patented. Similarly, artistic works must be protected by copyright, not trademarks.

What is the most famous sound trademark?

Did you know that NBC registered the first sound trademark in 1950? Due to time, the musical notes G, E, and C have been widely known to be the National Broadcasting Company.

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