Could ‘fake news’ become a real trademark?

We should all be familiar with the term ‘fake news’ by now. It first came to light towards the end of the 2016 United States election, when it emerged that fake news stories had been published and shared on social media networks in order to fool voters and skew their opinions. Since then it’s become a cultural phenomenon.

The phrase continues to be a major discussion point for journalists and the media industry on a wider scale — Channel 4 recently carried out a week-long exploration of the issue with a series of one-off shows — and it’s even been referenced by politicians and other public figures as a defence against unfavourable news stories.

Amongst all this, it seems as though there’s a battle to see who can trademark the phrase first. CNN reported that three different US companies had all applied to trademark the phrase ‘fake news’ on January 12 — exactly one day after CNN was accused of being a fake news organisation by then-President-elect Trump during a press conference.

One of the parties involved is Film Roman, an animation company that’s best known for its long-term involvement on The Simpsons. It’s reportedly been working on a new satirical cartoon comedy called Fake News, and so it only makes sense that the company is pursuing the trademark to go alongside it.

Breaking Games, the company responsible for manufacturing the incredibly popular party game Cards Against Humanity, is also going after the trademark to strengthen the branding of a new game it’s working on. The game is set to be based around the idea of fake news, and will no doubt deliver the same level of controversy that can be found in Cards Against Humanity. Although still a work in progress, there’s already a dedicated webpage where people can sign up for the latest news and updates on the game.

The third candidate is a bit more of a mystery. Details are scarce on who they are, and all that CNN could report was that the company is registered out of an apartment building in Astoria, New York, and is looking to sell the fake news phrase on t-shirts and other items of clothing. Needless to say, it seems as though it’s the smallest company out of the three.

However, there’s just one thing that throws a spanner in the works when it comes to trademarking an ‘of the moment’ phrase: time.

As we’re all too aware of, applying and securing trademarks can be a lengthy process. We often see cases stretching across a number of years, and after all that time there’s still no guarantee that any of the three companies will even be successful in securing the desired trademark. What’s more, it’s possible that, by the time a decision is made on the case, the phrase ‘fake news’ may have disappeared from the public vernacular completely.

As the very meaning and value of the ‘fake news’ phrase continues to evolve, it remains to be seen whether it will be deemed worthy of a trademark by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If so, it will be particularly interesting to see who emerges as a winner at the end of it all.