Don’t Allow Woman to Trademark Protest Slogan

eric garner

Target: US Patent and Trademark Office Commissioner Deborah Cohn

Goal: Stop a woman from trademarking “I can’t breathe,” a slogan for the ongoing protests against police brutality

“I can’t breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner, have become a rallying cry for protesters opposing police brutality. Now an Illinois woman wants to trademark the words, allowing her to profit off of the cause and prevent others from using it. Catherine Crump claims that she has been using the slogan on clothing since August, a month after Garner’s death, and her desire to trademark it has nothing to do with the cause, Garner’s family, or profiting from the movement. Even if Crump doesn’t plan on using the trademark to make money, a trademark could allow her to sue people for using the phrase for protesting purposes—allowing someone to trademark the phrase takes the movement out of the protesters’ hands and gives an individual control.

“I can’t breathe,” is a common saying that has taken on stronger meaning since it became a slogan for the movement against police brutality. It’s a strange thing to trademark at an even stranger time—in a struggle like this one, where protesters are being shut down at every opportunity, we need to protect their speech whenever possible. Allowing Crump to trademark a common phrase at the moment when its meaning has been adopted to challenge the status quo is allowing one person to have too much control over how the language of protest can be used.

Crump cannot be allowed to trademark the phrase. The phrase is used to rally people of color who are no longer willing to be subject to police brutality because of their race—awarding its use to one person is taking its power away from the people. This is an important time in our country’s history as increasing numbers of people are made aware of ongoing racial inequality. Encourage the US Patent and Trademark Office to reject Crump’s petition and keep Eric Garner’s last words for public use. Don’t let one woman privatize a nationwide movement.


Dear Director Cohn,

An Illinois woman recently filed a trademark petition for the phrase “I can’t breathe.” This phrase, the last words of Eric Garner, has been used as a rallying cry for protesters who oppose police brutality. Though Catherine Crump claims that she has no affiliation with the cause and that she doesn’t plan on trademarking the phrase for money, allowing her to take ownership of this phrase could prevent protestors from using it for their cause. This is an important moment in our country’s history, and allowing Crump to trademark the phrase could also allow her to sue protesters who use the phrase for spreading their message.

While it’s unclear what Crump’s motivation for attempting to trademark the phrase is, the phrase has come to be synonymous with the movement. Allowing one person to have control over its use could be damaging to the movement, even if Crump doesn’t use the trademark to profit. Please use your influence to deny this trademark, as it is a common phrase with an important message that belongs to everybody, not just one person.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: notionscapital via Flickr

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  1. It’s amazing what some sleazes will do to try to take advantage of the misfortunes of others.

  2. Michael Guest says:

    This is wrong. It’s too disturbing. Reject this idea before it happens. We won’t stand for it, and it must be stopped now.

  3. Cat Jefferson says:

    It’s frigging ridiculous that someone can trademark common phrases at all. That should be against the law.
    One can’t say “You’ve got mail” now because of AOL. Soon I won’t be able to say, “I gotta pee.” in public because you will allow someone to trademark the damned phrase.
    Please don’t allow “I can’t breathe” to be trademarked!

  4. Warren Brown says:

    I was prepared to sign until the comment that the phrase is used to rally people of color. The continued use of the abhorrent race card confounds me. Positive discrimination is still discrimination and until all people accept all people as equal I cannot find it within myself to support any cause that promotes discrimination, however it is dressed up.

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