American rapper Cardi B brought trade mark law into news headlines recently when the rapper's company, Washpoppin Inc., lodged trade mark applications in the US for 'OKURRR'. What is OKURRR, and why are these trade mark applications making global headlines? Trade Marks Attorney Thomas Campbell investigates.
The trade mark applications, lodged with the USPTO earlier this year, cover goods such as t-shirts, bodysuits and undergarments, as well as paper cups and posters.
The phrase, 'OKURRR', was described by Cardi B during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in April 2018 as contextually-dependent:
It depends on the situation that you're in. If somebody checks somebody, it's like...okurr! I didn't know she had all of that in her, okurr! It's like okaaay, but okay is played out.
So, for those attempting to keep up, 'OK' is out, 'OKURRR' is in.
During her appearance on Fallon, the rapper helpfully described the sound as like a 'cold pigeon in New York City'.
Society reached peak-OKURRR earlier this year when a Cardi B-featured Pepsi commercial aired during the Superbowl, reaching millions of viewers. The commercial centred around restaurant patrons attempting to speak the phrase. Fittingly, perhaps poetically, the commercial ends with two 'Okurrr'-ing pigeons perched next to the Pepsi logo.
The public controversy is linked to who first used the phrase. So, when did the first utterance of OKURRR, occur?
On 9 April 2018, Cardi B stated, in response to a Twitter user's statement about the origins of the word, 'The Kardash did got me hooked on saying it now Im here [sic]'.
The reference to the Kardashian family led journalists to review episodes of Keeping Up With The Kardashians dating back to 2016 (time well spent), in which Khloe Kardashian can be heard using the phrase. Others have identified earlier use by contestants on the US TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, on which Khloe Kardashian was a guest judge at one point – conspiracy?
The USPTO Register sheds further light on earlier use. A US trade mark application for a sound mark of the phrase was lodged by Bellavitte, Inc. in July 2018 in respect of entertainment-related services. The application claims first use in commerce at 13 January 2010 and describes the sound mark as consisting of 'the pronunciation "okrrr" which is a proprietary pronunciation of the word "Okay" originally created by Applicant and associated with Applicant's wholly original character named Shocantelle'. The application appears to be lodged for Laura Bell Bundy, an actress who used the phrase in an internet skit in which she played the character Shocantelle Brown.
Interestingly, the Bundy Registration was refused by the USPTO in February on the grounds that the phrase is in common use in the drag community and by celebrities, and 'therefore consumers would not consider the mark as identifying source of the applicant's services'. Despite Bundy appearing to be the first user of the mark, the USPTO uses a screenshot of Cardi B's appearance on Fallon in 2018 to support its objection to the Bundy application.
So will Cardi B be able to claim exclusive rights to OKURRR in relation to undergarments and bodysuits? Or will a similar rejection be issued per the Bundy application? These all-important questions will play out before the USPTO in coming months.
In the meantime, an application for one of Cardi B's other catchphrases, 'Eeeeowwww', is yet to be filed. According to Cardi B, it is best described as 'almost like a sad cat… like a cat that is going through pain … Eeeeeowwww'.
A new controversy awaits: when did the first sad cat 'Eeeeeowwww'?