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Posted by James Juo | Apr 08, 2023 | 0 Comments

Cameron Sexton for State Representative (“Applicant”), a Tennessee Political Campaign Committee (“PAC”), sought registration on the Principal Register of the proposed PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS mark for among other goods and services, T-shirts and political fundraising services.

The application was refused on the ground that the phrase PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS does not function as a trademark because it is merely informational and constitutes a common slogan that is widely used in the marketplace.

The question is whether the wording also functions as a trademark, or whether consumers would perceive the wording as a commonplace informational or political message or slogan. See In re Hulting, 107 USPQ2d 1175, 1177-79 (TTAB 2013) (finding NO MORE RINOS!, which means “No More Republicans In Name Only,” was not registrable for various paper items, shirts and novelty buttons, because the wording would be perceived as a commonly used political message).

The evidence of record included examples of the phrase “PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS” being used by others, including in several political campaigns and a Spotify podcast. In re Cameron Sexton for State Representative, Ser. No. 90211624 (TTAB Mar. 31, 2023).

The TTAB found that the phrase PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS was a commonplace informational slogan which consumers are accustomed to seeing on goods and services like those identified in the application, including on signs and clothing, and in association with political information, political fundraising and blogs.

And the use of the phrase “people before politics” in a variety of contexts, including non-political contexts, provides additional support for our finding that the phrase is commonly used and understood as an exhortation to put people over politics. The more commonly a term or phrase is used in everyday speech by various sources, the less likely consumers will be to perceive the matter as a trademark for any goods or services. E.g., Greenwood, 2020 USPQ2d 11439, at 2-3 (citing In re Peace Love World Live, LLC, 127 USPQ2d 1400, 1402 (TTAB 2018)); In re DePorter, 129 USPQ2d 1298, 1303 (TTAB 2019) (quoting Hulting, 107 USPQ2d at 1177); In re Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 129 USPQ2d 1148, 1153 (TTAB 2019).

Because the words PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS are merely informational and constitute a common social or political slogan that is widely used in the marketplace, it failed to function as a trademark.

A few days after the TTAB affirmed the refusal of the application by his PAC for the PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS trademark, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, supported the expulsion of three Democrats (Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson) because those people had engaged in a protest against gun violence on the Tennessee House floor on March 30, 2023, after the March 27th Covenant School shooting in Nashville.

On April 6, 2023, two of the so-called “Tennessee Three” were expelled from the Tennessee legislature. Before his expulsion, Justin Jones said, “Rather than pass laws that will address red flags and banning assault weapons and universal background checks, they passed resolutions to expel their colleagues.” After his expulsion, Justin Pearson said, “The erosion of democracy in the state Legislature is what got us here.” Tennessee Representative Gloria Johnson, however, narrowly avoided expulsion by a one-vote margin, and said, “‘We are on the right side of history.”

About the Author

James Juo

James Juo is an experienced intellectual property attorney. He has successfully litigated various intellectual property disputes involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. He also has counseled clients on the scope and validity of patent and trademark rights.


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