Because I'm writing a book about intellectual property law, there is some relevant information I should divulge before I begin in earnest. I trademarked the phrase “freedom of expression.” No, I'm not joking and, yes, I have proof. In my possession I have trademark number 2,127,381 and a certificate from the U.S. government that reads, “The application was examined and determined to be in compliance with the requirements of the law and with the regulations prescribed by the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, and that the Applicant is entitled to registration of the Mark . . . Freedom of Expression.”
Does this mean I can sue anyone in the United States for using the term without my permission? No, not really. My self-produced publication, Freedom of Expression®, was registered only under Class 16 of the international schedule of classes of goods and services, which covers, generally, “printed matter” and the like. But even though I can't prevent someone from using the term in all situations, I can still sue for the unauthorized use of “freedom of expression” in some contexts.
I first started thinking about issues surrounding intellectual property law, culture and power nearly 10 years ago, when I was an undergraduate working under Professor Bruce Busching. In his office one day, discussing a presentation about intellectual property law I was to do as a teaching assistant for his class in advanced critical social theory, we joked about trademarking “freedom of expression” and, after some thought, I decided to try it. It took me a while to trademark the phrase because, unlike corporations that have the deep pockets to shell out the money for the numerous trademarks they register, I simply did not have the $245 it would cost to immediately register it.
Three years later I underwent the process of registering the mark, starting with searching a database to make sure no one else had beaten