"Illinois woman files trademark for "I cant breathe""
Waukegan woman has filed a trademark application for the phrase "I Can't Breathe," words that have become a national rallying cry for civil rights and racial justice in the wake of cases involving the deaths of unarmed black men during encounters with police.
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Eric Garner, of New York, died in July after uttering the phrase when police put him in a chokehold. After a grand jury Dec. 3 declined to indict the police officer involved in the Garner case, "I Can't Breathe" has been prominently featured at protests across the country — chanted by demonstrators, etched on banners and printed on T-shirts, including one worn during pregame warm-ups by Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose.
Catherine L. Crump, 57, filed the application Dec. 13 with the United States Patent and Trademark office, saying she wants the phrase for "clothing, namely hoodies, T-shirts for men, women, boys, girls and infants."
Crump declined to comment to a reporter Friday after answering the door at her home.
In the application, Crump said she began using the phrase in commerce as early as Aug. 18. Crump filed the trademark application as an individual, and included in her filing photos that partially show clothing with the phrase printed on it. She paid $325 to file.
University of Chicago law professor Jonathan Masur said if Crump was not the first person to produce "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts and hoodies, she will not receive the trademark, even if she was the first to apply and regardless of whether anyone else files.
"If she's not the first person to make these T-shirts, she's going to be out of luck," Masur said.
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The trademark application for the phrase "I Can't Breathe" only applies to its use on the clothing identified in the application and would not prevent others from using the phrase in other materials or goods, or in demonstrations, law professors said.
"You don't get absolute monopoly rights over the words you trademark," said Cynthia Ho, a law professor at Loyola University in Chicago. "because that would violate the basic premise of free speech."
Trademarks are different from patents and exist only to identify particular products with a specific source. Anyone can file a trademark application online. Once filed, the application is reviewed by trademark examiners, who will rule on its merit.
If Crump is granted the trademark, others who produce "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts or hoodies would have to work with her on licensing and pay royalties.
If someone successfully trademarks the phrase "I Can't Breathe" for clothing, Masur said, "It's conceivable it could be worth a considerable amount of money. They could make a tidy sum."
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