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For the Swifties: An Explanation of the “(Taylor’s Version)” Trademark Applications

Posted by Isabel Fox | Aug 30, 2022 | 0 Comments

As Taylor Swift fans (myself included) know all too well, Ms. Swift loves to leave “easter eggs” in music videos, social media posts, interviews, clothing choices, etc., to hint at upcoming projects. This practice has led to nearly constant and increasingly wild fan theories that spread online until yet another seemingly significant date passes without an announcement. All the while, Swifties ready themselves to begin again with a new theory.

Recently, fans have started digging into the status of Taylor's trademark applications, particularly related to the “(Taylor's Version)” mark. This has led to widespread confusion as fans try to understand the language used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This article is me trying to clarify the current status of these applications and whether we can use the applications to predict which album will be re-released next.

Trademarks 101

First, a brief explanation of trademarks. A trademark is a distinguishable word, symbol, slogan, or figure that identifies products or services from a specific source and distinguishes them from others. In this context, the mark “(Taylor's Version)” identifies songs and albums from a particular source (i.e., Taylor Swift/TAS Rights Management, LLC) and distinguishes these songs and albums from other sources (i.e., her previous record label). As stated by Taylor herself, “When something says in parenthesis ‘Taylor's Version' next to it, that means I own it.”

Overview of the Application Process

Let's take a look at the general trademark process.

  • Step 1: File an Application - Once a trademark application is submitted to the USPTO and the required fee is paid, the application is preliminarily examined to ensure that the minimum filing requirements are met.
    • This is the step I've seen cited online as “proof” that any specific album is next.
    • In April of this year, a popular tweet stated, “The trademark for ‘1989 (Taylor's Version)' has officially been approved.”
      • The tweet included a screenshot showing the status of the application as: “The trademark application has been accepted by the Office (has met the minimum filing requirements) and that this application has been assigned to an examiner.”
      • The first part of this statement – “The trademark application has been accepted” – proved confusing, causing Taylor fans around the globe to believe that 1989 (Taylor's Version) was one step closer to release.
      • However, the trademark application still has a ways to go before the mark may be registered.
  • Step 2: Assignment to a trademark examiner, or “examining attorney” - The examining attorneys are employees of the U.S. government (specifically the USPTO), and it is their job to ensure that trademark applications meet all legal requirements for registration.
  • Step 3: Examination/Issuance of an Office Action - If any legal requirement(s) is not met, the examining attorney issues an official letter called an “office action” explaining the issue(s) with the application.
  • Step 4: Respond to the Office Action - The trademark attorney who drafted and filed the application will review the office action, amend the application as needed, submit arguments to overcome rejections (if required), and respond to the examining attorney.
    • This process can repeat several times (and may take months to over a year) until all issues are resolved and the trademark is approved for publication.
  • Step 5: Publication for Opposition – Approved marks are included in the “Official Gazette,” a weekly publication by the USPTO. Any member of the general public has 30 days to respond to the USPTO if they believe the registration of the mark will damage them.
  • Step 6: Issuance of Registration Certificate or Notice of Allowance – After 30 days, and assuming no opposition is filed, the USPTO will issue either a certificate of registration or a notice of allowance.
    • Certificates of registration are issued for applications filed based on use in commerce.
      • An application based on use means that the mark is already being used in commerce at the time the application is filed.
    • Notices of allowance are issued for applications filed based on intent to use in commerce.
      • An application filed based on intent to use means that, at the time of filing, the mark is not yet being used in commerce, but the applicant has a bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce.
        • Each of the marks shown in the table below were filed on an intent-to-use basis.
What is going on with the (Taylor's Version) trademarks?

For the sake of this article, the specific marks included in the table below are the trademarks filed for each album under International Trademark Class 9, which includes musical recordings, both downloadable and physical recordings. There are several trademark classes spanning all types of goods and services. For example, “Fearless (Taylor's Version)” is a registered mark for International Class 25 for clothing, specifically tops and International Class 28, for Christmas tree ornaments and decorations. (The applications for both marks were filed the day before the album release date was announced, so make of that what you will.) The marks we are most concerned with, at least for this article, are the “standard character” marks (as opposed to stylized marks) filed under Class 9.

Word Mark

Application Filing Date

Album Announced

Published for Opposition

Is the mark registered?

Album Release Date

Taylor Swift

Taylor's Version

2/11/21

-

6/21/22

No

-

Fearless

Taylor's Version

6/21/21*

2/11/21

-

No

4/9/21

Speak Now

Taylor's Version

2/11/21

-

-

No

-

Red

Taylor's Version

2/11/21

6/18/21

-

No

11/12/21

1989

Taylor's Version

2/11/21

-

6/21/22

No

-

Reputation

Taylor's Version

2/11/21

-

6/21/22

No

-

*The stylized mark for “Fearless (Taylor's Version)” was filed under Class 9 on 2/10/21, and the standard character mark was filed later.

Can the status of the trademark applications be used to predict Taylor's next album re-release?

Long story short, maybe. As shown in the table above, none of the (Taylor's Version) (“(TV)”) marks for any of her albums are currently registered trademarks. The two available re-released albums (Fearless (TV) and Red (TV)), along with Speak Now (TV), are arguably the least far along in the trademark process. In comparison, each of Taylor Swift (TV), 1989 (TV), and Reputation (TV) has already been published for opposition – meaning that the USPTO has approved the applications. Their fate now depends on any opposition that arose during the allowed period for opposition (i.e., 30 days following publication or between June 21 and July 21).

Per the USPTO, if no opposition is filed, trademarks filed based on use in commerce are officially registered “within about three months” after publication in the Official Gazette. However, each of the three marks published for opposition was filed based on intent to use, meaning that instead of a registration certificate, the USPTO will issue a Notice of Allowance.

Following the Notice of Allowance, the Applicant has six months to either a) use the mark in commerce (i.e., release the album(!)) or b) request a six-month extension. Unfortunately for fans, multiple extensions of time may be requested, so even though my wildest dreams would include three re-released albums becoming available within the next year, that seems unlikely.

Where do we go from here?

I don't think anyone other than Taylor herself knows what she'll do next. We can continue to analyze every word she says and image she posts to look for clues but likely end up holding on to nothing. Even still, I will probably keep tabs on her trademark applications to try to predict what album will be re-released next. Until then, long live the wild fan theories!

(Author's note: This article was written before the announcement of Taylor's tenth album, Midnights, on August 28th, which goes to show that truly nobody other than Taylor knows her next move.)

*The information provided in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is meant as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions.

About the Author

Isabel Fox

Isabel Fox is a registered patent agent and has been with Gallium Law since 2018. Her practice largely revolves around utility and design patent prosecution; including conducting patent landscape searches, drafting patent applications, and responding to Office Actions issued by the USPTO...

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