15 Distinctive Pop-Culture Sounds That Have Been Trademarked By Their Respective Owners
Fun fact: did you know you can’t publish your own superhero book without the permission of Marvel or DC?
Wait, let me rephrase that. There’s nothing stopping you from coming up with a new superhero and putting your character in a comic book; you just can’t have him star in The Super Hero Comic Book and license your own line of “Super Hero” sleeping bags with your hero’s face on them.
That’s because the word “superhero” (and “super hero,” along with other variations) is owned by both Marvel and DC in a rare case of two companies co-owning a trademark.
There’s still some legal controversy over the status of the word “superhero” as a trademark because of that co-ownership. By definition, a trademark is any image, symbol, word or phrase that is unique and identifies a service or product as something owned by a single individual or business entity. In other words, having a trademark co-owned by two competing companies defeats the whole purpose of a trademark.
To put it another way, if the word “superhero” is likely to make someone think of characters published by either Marvel or DC (or by one of dozens of other companies), then by definition it’s a generic word. But somehow Marvel and DC were able to persuade the United States Patent and Trademark Office that the word should be co-owned, and they were granted joint ownership in 1980.
These days, almost anything can be considered a trademark provided you can demonstrate its uniqueness. Harley-Davidson fought a long battle to trademark the sound of its idling motorcycle engine, but other motorcycle makers fought back, saying it’s the sound of all V-twin motorcycle engines and that it predates Harley-Davidson’s hogs.
Even so, a number of other sounds have been successfully trademarked by their owners over the years, many of them very familiar to pop-culture fans around the world.
Your mission: try to identify the trademarked sounds below based on the way it’s described by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
1. Trademark #77419252
“The mark consists of the sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator.”
2. Trademark #77419246
“The mark consists of the sound of an oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor sound.”
3. Trademark #76641094
“The mark is described as consisting of two musical notes, a strike and a rapid rearticulation of a perfect fifth pitch interval, which in the key of C sounds the notes C and G, struck concurrently.”
4. Trademark #75326989
“The mark is… a series of approximately ten sounds, alternating between the chest and falsetto registers of the voice, as follow – 1) a semi-long sound in the chest register, 2) a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound, 3) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 4) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 5) a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 6) a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound, 7) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 8) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 9) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 10) a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound.”
5. Trademark #76163189
“The mark consists of the sound of a childlike human giggle.”
6. Trademark #85409089
“The mark consists of a human whistling a G4 eighth note, followed by a Bb4 eighth note, followed by an A4 eighth note, followed by a D4 half note, in the key of G minor.”
7. Trademark #76344794
“The mark consists of the sound of a brass bell tuned to the pitch D, but with an overtone of D-sharp, struck nine times at a brisk tempo, with the final tone allowed to ring until the sound decays naturally. The rhythmic pattern is eight 16th notes and a quarter note; the total duration, from the striking of the first tone to the end of the decay on the final one, is just over 3 seconds.”
8. Trademark #75676156
“The mark consists of the following six musical notes played in a fast tempo: D, C sharp, D, D, C sharp, D.”
9. Trademark #85793891
“The mark consists of the ticking sound of a stopwatch.”
10. Trademark #72349496
“The mark comprises a sequence of chime-like musical notes which are in the key of C and sound the notes G, E, C, the ‘G’ being the one just below Middle C, the ‘E’ the one just above Middle C, and the ‘C’ being Middle C.”
11. Trademark #75934538
“The mark consists of the [REDACTED] Theme Song which consists of eighteen (18) musical notes comprising the notes, E4, D4, C4, D4, E4, EFlat4, E4, C4, D4, D4, D4, D4, C4, AFlat3, A3, D4, E4, and G4.”
12. Trademark #75332744
“The mark consists of a five tone audio progression of the notes D FLAT, D FLAT, G, D FLAT and A FLAT.”
13. Trademark #74639802
“The mark consists of theme music for the [REDACTED] radio, film, and television series, resembling portions of the overture to the 1829 opera ‘William Tell,’ composed by Gioacchino Rossini.”
14. Trademark #74629287
“The mark consists of nine bars of primarily musical chords in the key of B flat; the chords consisting of four, eighth and sixteenth notes.”
15. Trademark #74309951
“The [REDACTED] theme consists of 30 voices over seven measures, starting in a narrow range, 200 to 400 Hz, and slowly diverting to preselected itches encompassing three octaves. The 30 voices begin at pitches between 200 Hz and 400 Hz and arrive at pre-selected pitches spanning three octaves by the fourth measure. The highest pitch is slightly detuned while there are double the number of voices of the lowest two pitches.”
1. Darth Vader’s breathing.
2. The sound of a Star Wars lightsaber in motion.
3. The “chung-chung” scene transition sound from the Law & Order TV franchise.
4. The Tarzan yell.
5. The Pillsbury Doughboy’s laugh.
6. The Mockingjay whistle from The Hunger Games.
7. The New York Stock Exchange’s opening bell.
8. ESPN’s “da da da” theme song.
9. The stopwatch sound at the start of CBS’s 60 Minutes.
10. The NBC chimes.
11. The Looney Tunes theme song.
12. The “Intel Inside” sound bite.
13. The Lone Ranger theme music.
14. The 20th-Century Fox fanfare music.
15. Lucasfilm’s “THX” music.