June 2017. Gene Simmons, the lead singer of veteran rock band Kiss, is trying to register a hand gesture as a trademark in the United States. He applied to register the gesture, also known as ‘the devil horns’, on 9 June. Simmons says he’s used it in performances by Kiss since 1974 and is therefore hoping to acquire exclusive rights to it in relation to music and entertainment.


Simmons’ application has prompted a storm of indignation, especially on Twitter. What makes an aged rocker think he can exclusively claim a gesture people have been using since time immemorial? The ‘devil horns’ has been recognised for centuries the world over to denote a whole range of things from devil worship and bad luck to adultery.

Use by artists

Even more relevant in legal terms is the argument that Simmons is far from being the first entertainer to use the gesture. The widow of Black Sabbath front man Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010, has dismissed the application as disgusting. She maintains it was her husband who made the gesture popular when he was lead singer with the group, although this would then call into question the claim that Dio was the first to use it (since he didn’t join Black Sabbath until 1979).

Coven and John Lennon

A still earlier confirmed example of the use of the symbol is by the American band Coven on the sleeve of their 1969 album Witchcraft. And, last but not least, John Lennon can also be seen making the gesture on the cover of the Beatles’ 1966 single Yellow Submarine.

Middle finger

The US Patent and Trademark Office will shortly evaluate the application and publish its findings. Given the avalanche of angry reactions on social media, it’s likely someone will file an opposition. Many though just prefer to poke fun at it: former Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx tweeted that he was now considering registering the familiar middle finger gesture as a trademark.

Latest developments

According to the USPTO Simmons withdrew (e.g. abandoned) the application on June 20. Therefore, the application is no longer active.

This article previously appeared in de Volkskrant newspaper