Wolf Files: The Selling of TV Catchphrases

TV Catchphrases Make Dy-No-Mite Income

By Buck Wolf

April 13  — So, you want to trademark a famous TV or movie line? Is that your final answer? Go ahead, make my day. Just do it.

You can call Donald Trump greedy, but not because he's trying to trademark "You're fired!" — the catchphrase he uses each time a wannabe mogul is booted from The Apprentice.

Attempts have been made to trademark just about every famous catchphrase, and they're often owned by businesses with no connection to the stars or studios that made the line famous.

Remember Flo the waitress' big line from the 1970s TV show Alice? Various companies have registered trademarks to emblazon "Kiss My Grits" on jelly jars, potato chip bags, cooking aprons and even slip-resistant footwear. Ironically, "Kiss My Grits" has yet to appear on any cereal box — let alone honest-to-goodness grits.

Riley’s Three-Peat Four-Sight

Take a look at the 218,000 trademark applications filed last year with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and you'll get a little insight into trendy America and what passes as intellectually property.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq gave rise to dozens of trademarks, including "Shock and Awe" coffee mugs, sweat bands and condoms. These should not be confused with "Baghdad Bob" hot sauce for infidels and "Baghdad Bob" dolls, created in the image of the former Iraqi information minister.

Some celebs collect a nice income from their trademark quips. Michael Buffer, the voice of wrestling, owns his catchphrase, "Let's Get Ready to Rumble," and any unauthorized use of that expression will result in a legal wrangling.

In 1989, when the Los Angeles Lakers were trying for their third straight NBA title, coach Pat Riley registered the rights to "three-peat." Riley's squad lost to the Detroit Pistons. However, thanks to Michael Jordan, Riley cashed in on "three-peat" royalties when the Chicago Bulls won three straight titles in a row, in 1993 and again in 1998.