Long Island native Jeffrey Lee Costell found himself thinking a lot about love in the early days of the pandemic. In particular, he wanted to know how COVID-19 was impacting relationships as people found themselves isolated, or in close quarters with partners they may be starting to see differently. So he decided to launch an online forum where people could express ideas about love with poetry, images, and blog posts.

“You know, the energy we call love and how it can and should be expressed and maybe even redefined for all of us in the post-COVID-19 era,” he said.

Costell figured other entrepreneurial people were thinking about love and the virus, too. So, on March 30th, he filed an application with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent competitors from using the names he came up with for his site.

“ ‘Love in the Time of Corona,’ as well as ‘Love in the Time of the Coronavirus,’ as well as ‘Love in the Time of Covid-19,’” Costell, an attorney in Southern California, said of the titles (all plays on the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera). “I just kind of covered my bases, which is what you do in intellectual property law.”

Starting around February 4th, as the virus was spreading globally, Americans began rushing to lock in trademarks linked to the pandemic. The federal trademark office shows more than 100 applications have been filed. Most of the applications are intended to trademark words on apparel—such as T-shirts and warm-up suits, while others want to trademark names for medical products, like drugs or safety kits.

Some examples:

  • COVID Babies
  • Cats Against Covid
  • Keep Back 6 Feet Social Distance Coronavirus 2020
  • I Survived Coronavirus
  • Communist China Covid
  • I Am A Covid19 Survivor

It’s not unusual to see such activity during a major event, according to Laura Heymann, an intellectual law professor at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia.

“When there is something that trends,” she said, “something like ‘Boston Strong,’ after the Boston Marathon incident—you do often see a number of people rushing to the trademark office.”

Heymann said she suspects some of the applications will be rejected because they fall short of the federal standard that a trademark identifies the source of the goods or services it's providing—much like the Pepsi name on a bottle lets the consumer know that the beverage inside was produced by PepsiCo.

“You can rely on that trademark to know that you're getting the same soda that you got before from the same provider,” she said.

For example, some applicants are asking to trademark the terms “COVID-19” and “coronavirus.” But, she said, it would be hard for an applicant to prove they are the source of COVID-19 in the same way PepsiCo’s the source of Pepsi.

Candice Denslow, a furniture consignment store operator in New Rochelle in Westchester County, applied to trademark “COVID-19 2020,” a phrase and logo she plans to sell on leather bracelets.

Denslow said bracelets are a way to celebrate the spirit of the community that became the center of the pandemic in New York, and to make back some of the money she lost after the coronavirus shut down part of New Rochelle, the first place in the tri-state region to report an outbreak.

“We had a good business. Now we have no business,” said Denslow, who has four employees who remain employed. “We’re trying to get creative in a bleak situation.”

Those trying to trademark business names around the virus, even with the best of intentions, could face another obstacle: negative public sentiment. Christine Haight Farley, a trademark law professor at American University in Washington, D.C., said a rush to trademark “coronavirus” or “COVID-19” as part of a business could come across to consumers as greedy.

“I don’t think it’s ever not frowned upon,” said Farley. “In this case, you just have the added layer of that monopolistic grab that happens when other people are suffering from exactly the thing that you're trying to exploit economically.”

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