In this article, the reader will learn about sound trademarks, a type of non-traditional trademark that protects a unique sound associated with a brand or product. The article delves into the history and famous examples of sound trademarks, the requirements for protection, and the registration process. It also covers the scope and limitations of sound trademark rights, as well as the challenges and future developments in this area of intellectual property law. By understanding the intricacies of sound trademarks, businesses can better protect their brand identity and navigate the expanding world of non-traditional trademarks.

Sound Trademark

Definition and Concept

A sound trademark is a type of trademark that is a unique, non-visual identifier that distinguishes a brand, product, or service and sets it apart from the competition. It is a specific sound or combination of sounds that represent the brand and its values consistently across various customer touchpoints. In simpler terms, it is an aural equivalent of a logo.

Sound trademarks play a crucial role in engaging consumers and creating a memorable and recognizable brand experience. They can be musical jingles, a short tune, a sequence of notes, sound effects, or even a product's inherent operational sound. To qualify for a sound trademark, the sound must be distinctive, making it immediately identifiable as a mark associated with the brand. It should convey the business's essence, be easily recalled by the audience, and avoid any confusions with other existing sound trademarks.

To obtain a sound trademark, the applicant must apply for registration with the relevant intellectual property office or trademarks registry. The application process may require submitting an accurate musical notation or a sound recording, along with a description of the sound, its use, and the intention behind it. Upon approval, the sound trademark is protected from unauthorized use and infringement.

History of Sound Trademarks

The concept of sound trademarks traces back to the early days of mass communication, radio, and television. As the media landscape expanded and advertising gained momentum in the late 19th and 20th centuries, businesses realized the importance of creating distinctive audio cues to capture consumers' attention and minds.

The first-ever sound trademark registered in the United States dates back to 1950, granted to NBC for its famous three-note chime sequence. It signified NBC's identity and was played to indicate the beginning of a radio or television transmission. This significant milestone propelled the corporate world to explore and invest in sound trademarks, recognizing their potential in forging an emotional bond with the audience and reinforcing brand recognition.

Over the years, sound trademarks have evolved and expanded, with the number of registrations increasing significantly around the globe. Courts and legislative bodies have recognized and established their importance in trademark law by offering protection from imitation and infringement.

Examples of Famous Sound Trademarks

Many well-known brands have successfully used sound trademarks to enhance their corporate identity and audience recall. Some iconic examples are:

  1. MGM's Roaring Lion: The dramatic roar of the lion, also known as Leo the Lion, in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's (MGM) logo has been a distinctive signature since the 1920s and instantly captures the audience's attention in movie theaters.
  2. Intel's Bong: Intel's five-note audio logo, known as the "Intel Bong," is a universally recognizable sound that reinforces the brand's connection with consumers through various communications.
  3. Nokia's Tune: The Nokia tune, a version of the classical guitar piece "Gran Vals," is one of the most iconic sound trademarks globally, having gained fame through its default ringtone status for millions of Nokia mobile phones.
  4. McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" Jingle: The popular "I'm Lovin' It" jingle is a perfect example of a memorable sound trademark that successfully creates a strong association with the McDonald's brand.
  5. 20th Century Fox Fanfare: The classic 20th Century Fox Fanfare, composed by Alfred Newman, is a time-honored sound trademark that instantly transports the audience to the world of Hollywood cinema.
  6. Netflix's "Tudum": The recognizable "Tudum" sound that plays when opening the Netflix app or starting a show has become synonymous with the streaming platform and the content it offers.

These examples showcase the power of sound trademarks in creating an unmistakable impression, reinforcing brand recognition, and evoking specific emotions in the minds of the audience. With the rise of digital media, virtual assistants, and voice-controlled devices, the prominence of sound trademarks is bound to expand further. Brands must explore and capitalize on this unique aspect of intellectual property to enhance their connection with the consumers and drive brand loyalty.

Requirements for Sound Trademark Protection

A sound trademark is a non-conventional type of trademark that represents a unique sound that serves to identify and differentiate the origin of goods and services provided by a particular company from those of others. Sound trademarks can include musical jingles, spoken words, sound effects, signature tunes, and short melodies. To qualify for sound trademark protection, there are certain requirements that must be met. These requirements include distinctiveness, non-functionality, originality, and compatibility with public order and morality.


Distinctiveness is a critical requirement for any trademark, including sound trademarks. It means that the sound must be unique and capable of identifying the source of the goods and services, and distinguishing them from those provided by other companies.

A distinctive sound trademark enables consumers to associate the sound with a particular company or brand, thus creating brand recognition and loyalty. A sound that is generic or merely descriptive of the goods and services will not typically qualify for trademark protection. The sound must convey a sense of identity that differentiates the brand and immediately makes it recognizable to consumers.

To determine the distinctiveness of a sound trademark, various factors like the length, complexity, and novelty of the sound will be taken into consideration. It must also not resemble other well-known or registered sounds to avoid confusion among consumers.


Another crucial requirement for sound trademark protection is that the sound must not serve any functional purpose for the goods or services. This means that the sound must not contribute any tangible benefit, add value, or affect the quality or performance of the product.

For example, if a motor vehicle manufacturer uses a particular engine sound that directly affects the performance of the vehicle or contributes to its fuel efficiency, it would be considered a functional aspect of the product and thus not eligible for sound trademark protection.

Non-functionality ensures that trademark protection is limited to aspects of a product or service that are purely symbolic, and not those that inherently serve a practical purpose. This allows for fair competition in the marketplace by not allowing businesses to monopolize on functional features that their competitors may need to incorporate into their goods or services.


Originality is a necessary requirement for sound trademark protection because it ensures that the sound was not copied from another source. The sound must be an original creation of the trademark applicant or a sound that the applicant has acquired the appropriate rights for.

When considering the originality of a sound trademark, various factors are considered. These include: the level of creativity involved in the creation of the sound, the use of any pre-existing sounds, and the level of transformation that has been applied to the sound to make it distinctive and unique.

It is important to note that copyright protection can also play a role in ensuring the originality of sound trademarks. If a sound has already been granted copyright protection, it is less likely to qualify for trademark protection, as trademark law seeks to protect functional aspects of goods and services, while copyright law protects the artistic and creative aspects.

Compatibility with Public Order and Morality

Finally, to qualify for sound trademark protection, the sound must be compatible with public order and morality. This requirement serves to protect the general public from offensive or damaging material and to maintain a commercial environment that is respectful of the values and sensibilities of society.

A sound that is considered offensive, immoral, or goes against the principles of public order will not be granted trademark protection. Examples of such sounds can include explicit language, offensive religious or political content, or sounds that may incite hatred or discrimination.

In summary, to qualify for sound trademark protection, the sound must be distinctive, non-functional, original, and compatible with public order and morality. Meeting these requirements ensures that the sound can be effectively used as a unique identifier for a company's goods or services, while not infringing on the rights of others or violating societal norms.

Registering a Sound Trademark

A sound trademark is a distinctive audio identifier that represents a company or product. It may be represented by a jingle, a musical piece, or a series of tones that consumers can associate with a brand. Registering a sound trademark provides companies with legal protection and exclusive rights to use the audio as a unique identifier in the marketplace. Sound trademarks are increasingly popular among companies as they help stand out in the market and create a powerful brand presence.

Preparing a Sound Trademark Application

The first and most important step in registering a sound trademark is the preparation of the application. Before filing an application, obtain legal advice from a trademark professional or an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. Sound trademarks can be complex to register, and having a professional guide in the process will help ensure that the application is accurate and robust.

The sound trademark application should include the following: 1. A clear and concise description of the sound, highlighting any distinctive features that make it unique. 2. A graphical representation, such as musical notation or a sonogram, that accurately depicts the sound. 3. A digital recording of the sound being filed, typically in MP3 or WAV format. 4. The goods and services the trademark will be associated with, classified according to the International Classification of Goods and Services (also known as the Nice Classification). 5. Supporting evidence that demonstrates how the sound has been used in commerce to represent the applicant's brand or goods/services. This may include advertisements, marketing materials, public testimonials, etc.

Filing Process and Procedure

Once the sound trademark application has been prepared, it needs to be filed with the appropriate trademark office. In the United States, this would be done by filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) either through their online Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS) or by mailing a paper application.

The USPTO has specific application fees, which vary depending on the filing method and the number of classes of goods and services for which the trademark is being registered. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the application meets all the requirements and addresses any potential objections of the examining attorney.

Examination and Publication

After filing the application with the appropriate trademark office, the application will be assigned to an examining attorney who will review it to ensure that all requirements have been met, and there are no conflicts with existing trademarks. This examination process may take several months, during which the applicant may receive office actions requesting clarification or changes to the application.

If the examining attorney deems the application to be eligible for registration, the sound trademark will be published in an official publication for opposition purposes. This gives third parties an opportunity to oppose the registration if they believe it poses a conflict with their rights or interests.

Opposition and Appeal

If there are no oppositions to the sound trademark application, or if any filed oppositions are resolved in favor of the applicant, the trademark will proceed to registration. However, if the registration is challenged and opposed successfully, the applicant may appeal this decision and present further evidence or arguments to support their application. The process may involve several rounds of appeals and may take a significant amount of time and resources to resolve.

International Sound Trademark Registration

Registering a sound trademark in one country does not automatically grant protection internationally. To obtain protection in other countries, there are two options:

  1. File separate applications in each country where protection is desired. This is often the best option for businesses with a limited geographic presence or specific target markets. It should be done according to the respective country's laws and requirements.
  2. File an international application through the Madrid System, which is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This system allows applicants to register their trademarks in multiple countries using a single application. There are, however, specific requirements and fees associated with the Madrid System, and it may not cover all desired countries.

Regardless of the method used, obtaining international sound trademark protection can be time-consuming and expensive, so it is essential to carefully consider the business strategy and the desired markets when planning to file for international protection.

Scope and Limitations of Sound Trademark Rights

Trademark rights protect brand names, logos, symbols, and other identifiers of the source of goods or services. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in protecting non-traditional forms of trademarks, such as sounds, scents, and holograms. Sound trademarks, in particular, play a crucial role in marketing and representing a brand. This article will discuss the various aspects of sound trademark rights, focusing on the scope, limitations, infringement, remedies, licensing, assignment, expiration, and renewal.

Exclusive Rights and Usage

A sound trademark grants its owner exclusive rights to the use of that particular sound in connection with specific goods or services. These rights include the ability to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, display, and create derivative works of the sound. Additionally, the owner has the legal authority to prevent unauthorized use of the sound trademark that might create confusion or dilute the distinctiveness of the sound in the marketplace.

However, there are limitations to these exclusive rights. For a sound to be eligible for trademark registration, it must be distinctive or uniquely identify the company or product it represents. Generic, functional, or common sounds, such as birds chirping or a basic melody, are not eligible for protection under trademark law. Furthermore, sound trademarks must not infringe on existing trademarks, copyrights, or be considered offensive or disparaging.

Infringement and Remedies

Infringement occurs when a third party uses a sound that is identical or highly similar to the registered sound trademark for similar goods or services, which results in confusion, mistake, or deception among the public. Infringing parties may be held liable for damages and can be ordered by a court to cease the unauthorized use of the sound.

To prove infringement, the trademark owner must demonstrate that they have a valid and protected sound trademark, the infringing party used the same or a similar sound in commerce, and that the use of the similar sound was likely to cause confusion among consumers. Remedies for infringement include monetary damages, such as lost profits or the infringing party's profits attributable to the infringement, injunctive relief, requiring the infringing party to cease and desist from using the trademarked sound, and attorney's fees in some cases.

Licensing and Assignment

Like other types of trademarks, sound trademarks can be licensed or assigned to other parties. Licensing involves granting another party permission to use the trademarked sound in a specific manner or for specific purposes, usually in exchange for royalties or other compensation. Licensing agreements should clearly specify the terms and conditions, limits of use, and the duration of the license to avoid potential disputes.

Assignment entails transferring ownership of the sound trademark to another party, typically through a written agreement. The new owner will acquire all the rights and obligations associated with the trademark, including the right to enforce the trademark against infringers. Both licensing and assignment of sound trademarks should be recorded with the relevant trademark office to ensure proper recognition and protection.

Expiration and Renewal

Sound trademarks, like other types of trademarks, have a limited duration but can be renewed indefinitely as long as they meet certain requirements. In the United States, for instance, a sound trademark registration must be renewed between the fifth and sixth year following its initial registration, and every ten years thereafter.

To maintain the trademark protection, owners must submit a declaration of continued use, proving that the sound is still being used in commerce in connection with the goods or services specified in the trademark registration. Failure to submit the required renewal documents and fees, or discontinuing the use of the trademarked sound, may result in the expiration of the trademark registration, leaving the sound vulnerable to appropriation by third parties.

Challenges and Future of Sound Trademarks

Sound trademarks, also known as "sound marks," are an essential aspect of today's business world and provide a unique opportunity for companies to protect their brand identity with distinctive signatures or melodies that evoke a specific product or service. However, the arena of sound trademarks is experiencing significant challenges and changes, mostly due to technology advancements, conflicting rights and legal issues, and growth in non-traditional trademark registration.

Technological Developments Impacting Sound Trademarks

Recent technological developments are both a boon and a challenge to the protection of sound trademarks. On one hand, technology has made it easier for businesses to create, share and distribute their sound marks, which has increased their popularity and success. Online platforms and social media channels enable brand owners to reach a broader audience with their sound mark, making it a powerful branding tool. Mobile phones and apps also allow for easy integration of sound marks through various services, which can help create a strong brand association.

On the other hand, the same technology has led to new challenges for protecting sound marks. As the number of sound marks increases, so does the possibility of infringement and the likelihood of similar marks being registered. Additionally, digital platforms and streaming services have made it easier to share and download audio files, which can lead to cases of unauthorized use and copyright infringement. In response to these challenges, trademark registries must continue to adapt to new technologies and find new ways to enforce and protect registered sound trademarks.

Conflicting Rights and Legal Issues

The registration and protection of sound trademarks also face challenges in the form of conflicting rights and legal issues. Ensuring that a sound mark does not infringe on existing copyrights or trademarks requires businesses to navigate complex legal terrain. Moreover, businesses need to be aware of the differences in sound trademark registration requirements from one jurisdiction to another.

For instance, in the United States, a sound mark must be distinctive either inherently or through acquired distinctiveness, and must not be functional or generic. Meanwhile, in Europe, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) requires that sound marks be capable of graphical representation and must not conflict with any existing trademarks or copyright.

Furthermore, while some countries might protect sound trademarks as copyrights, others may not, which can lead to confusion and potential conflicts between parties. Navigating these legal complexities requires expertise from intellectual property counsels and trademark attorneys who understand the market needs to ensure that a company's sound mark is appropriately registered, enforcing and protecting it from infringement.

Growth of Non-Traditional Trademarks

There is growing interest in non-traditional trademarks like sound marks, which presents opportunities and challenges alike to intellectual property protection. In addition to sound marks, companies are also increasingly looking to protect other non-traditional trademarks such as smells, tastes, and textures, which broaden the trademark landscape.

As non-traditional trademarks gain more popularity, there is likely to be a surge in applications for registration, which could overwhelm trademark registries and result in stricter registration requirements or longer processing times. Additionally, with more businesses competing for similar types of non-traditional trademarks, the potential for confusion, infringement claims, and litigation increases.

Rapid advancement in technology and changing market dynamics are shaping the future of sound trademarks, presenting a unique set of challenges and new prospects for this innovative form of intellectual property protection. Companies must stay informed about the latest developments, trends, and legal issues surrounding sound trademarks while concurrently adapting to the ever-evolving landscape to remain competitive and avoid potential conflicts and infringement claims. This calls for a comprehensive approach to intellectual property management, which combines technological innovation with robust legal strategies to safeguard and strengthen brand identity in the future.

1. What is the purpose of sound trademarks?

Sound trademarks protect unique audio logos or jingles that identify a product or company. Marking a distinctive sound as a trademark ensures its exclusivity, preventing competitors from employing similar audio cues that might confuse customers (Australian Intellectual Property Journal, 1999).

2. How do common sound trademarks differ from traditional trademarks?

While traditional trademarks generally consist of visual elements like logos and wordmarks, sound trademarks represent a sequence of notes or a specific audio clip. These sonic identifiers provide additional differentiation and brand recognition whenever users encounter them (Davis, 1994).

3. What are some examples of well-known sound trademarks?

Famous sound trademarks include NBC's chimes opening sequence, MGM's lion roar, Intel's "bong" logo sound, and Nokia's classic ringtone. All these audio logos are instantly recognizable, enabling customers to identify their respective brands without visual triggers (Katie, 2002).

4. What are the legal requirements to register a sound trademark?

The requirements might vary between countries, but general standards demand the sound to be distinctive, non-descriptive, and not deceptively similar to other existing trademarks. Additionally, most jurisdictions require the sound to be represented graphically in the form of musical notation or a spectrogram (Australian Intellectual Property Journal, 1999).

5. Can everyday sounds or common musical phrases be registered as sound trademarks?

Typically, everyday sounds like bird songs, phone ringers, or simple rhythms are considered generic and cannot be trademarked. A viable sound trademark should exhibit distinctiveness and exclusivity that differentiates a brand, product, or service from others (Davis, 1994).

6. How long does a sound trademark last, and can it be renewed?

A registered sound trademark typically offers protection for a set period, often 10 years, before requiring renewal. Most jurisdictions allow for indefinite renewals as long as the registration fees are paid promptly and the mark remains in use for the designated goods or services (Katie, 2002).