June 2017. It’s a common occurrence: any hype, whether it surrounds a happy event or a serious disaster, generates huge activity on the trademark registers. Commercially-driven individuals rush to the intellectual property offices to register the name or subject of the hype as a trademark, whether it’s Je Suis Charly, Brexit, Cecile the Lion or even MH17.

Incomprehensible tweet

And now we can add a new one to the list: Covfefe, the incomprehensible word tweeted by president Donald Trump during the night of 30 May in a statement that read: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”. When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer later told the media ‘the president knows exactly what he meant’, #Covfefe immediately became a trending topic and there was a stampede to claim it as a trademark.

14 Covfefe trademarks

A survey of trademark registers in several countries shows that as many as 14 applications to register Covfefe as a trademark have already been submitted by various companies and individuals. Nine were filed in the United States and the remaining five in Europe (Sweden, Norway, the UK and Switzerland). Covfefe appears to be especially popular as a clothing brand, since seven of the 14 applications have been made for T-shirts, hoodies, caps, folkloristic clothing or flip-flops. Commercial prospectors also seem to think they can make money using Covfefe as a trademark for beer, coffee, catering services and cultural activities.

First come…

The burning question now is which of these hopefuls will ultimately be successful in claiming Covfefe as a trademark. It could be an interesting battle, especially where the clothing brands are concerned. In theory, trademark law is based on the principle of ‘first come, first served’, but in this case the applications for clothing trademarks were all submitted on the same day (31 May). So the authorities may have to look at the exact time the applications were filed, since there can only be one ‘winner’. But whether that winner manages to strike gold with Covfefe is another matter. One characteristic of hypes is they’re often quickly forgotten. After all, who remembers Cecile the Lion?

This article was originally published in de Volkskrant newspaper.