Although she’s notoriously protective of her brand, Taylor Swift isn’t known to be especially litigious. But the singer has been on a trademark tear, attempting to register a handful of phrases in advance of her 1989 World Tour, which launches in Tokyo on May 5.
In addition to playful lines like “this sick beat,” found on her single “Shake It Off,” Swift’s recent requests to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office include relatively esoteric phrases like “Nice to meet you, where you been?” and “Party like it’s 1989.” Some 37 applications have been filed on her behalf since October 2014, shortly before Swift’s album was released, presumably to thwart unofficial vendors from ripping off her brand with such merch as shirts, hats, bags, toys and lanyards.
But, offers one trademark watcher, the move could signal a massive merchandising push of her own. Attorney Martin Schwimmer, who runs the popular Trademark Blog, foresees “a very ambitious licensing program” that is less about protecting against exploitation and more about expanding a line of products.
The move itself isn’t unusual. Such artists as Britney Spears and Beyoncé have attempted to trademark a popular song title (“Toxic”) or an alter ego (“Sasha Fierce”), a corporate strategy that Richard Rochford, a partner in New York’s intellectual property litigation group Haynes and Boone, likens to Swift “marking her territory.”
Rochford explains that unlike copyright law, trademark rights don’t require the phrases to be absolutely unique or for the applicant to have coined them personally. Therefore, obtaining the rights requires an artist to prove that they’re profiting off of a phrase associated with their brand. In Swift’s case, that could mean she has already manufactured, say, a “Shake It Off” salt-and-pepper set. Adds Rochford, “She’s saying she wants the ability to make money off of the things she’s created. Whether the net she’s cast is too wide remains to be seen.”
This article first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of Billboard.