Naming In The News

Names Can Be Patriotic Business

'America' lost favor last year; 'liberty,' 'freedom' fared better

By Barnet D. Wolf THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH July 3, 2004

Marking America

When William H. Westray III decided this year to start his central Ohio business, he selected a true-blue name that would resonate from sea to shining sea.

The company, which sells devices that open and close garages, privacy gates and swimming pool covers, was christened American Automatics.

"We wanted something that shows we work across America,'' he said.

The Washington native isn't alone in giving his company name a patriotic ring. So far this year, more than 50 new Ohio businesses used the words America, American or United States in their names.

That number is similar to last year's figure, but it's off by nearly 5 percent from the first half of 2002. The decline in corporate flag-waving in names mirrored a similar trend reported by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

As with Westray, most company officials who choose to use America or American in their names do so to establish a geographic range, said Bill Lozito, president of Strategic Name Development, a Minneapolis brand-name consultant.

"If you think back, with AT&T — formerly American Telephone & Telegraph — and ABC — the American Broadcasting Corp. — and American Airline and America Online, the name is saying, basically, this is where we do business,'' he said.

Still, Lozito said there has been an upswing since Sept. 11, 2001, in trademarked names that include America or American.

The trend could be waning, however. According to international-law firm Dechert, the number of new trademark applications featuring the word America fell 3 percent in 2003 from 2002. Those using the American flag dropped by 5 percent.

Dechert's 13th Annual Report on Trends in Trademarks also notes that trademarks featuring the word "patriot" slumped 25 percent.

Bucking the trend were trademarks showing images of soldiers, which were up 38 percent, while those using the words "liberty" or "freedom" were up 5 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

The decrease in trademarks featuring patriotic-themed images last year was not the result of a loss in Americans ' love of their country, said Glen Gunderson, co-chairman of Dechert's Intellectual Property Group.

Instead, it was a natural drop off after a tidal wave of trademarks in the months after Sept. 11, 2001.

"We're comparing 2003's numbers to a boomlet of filing for those kind of marks in 2002 after Sept. 11,'' he said. "When that became more distant, and the Iraq war started, you began to see less of that.''

Supporting the troops became a more-repeated theme.

Trademarks featuring the patriot theme jumped 77 percent in 2001 and an additional 96 percent in 2002 before falling back last year. Those featuring the American flag were up 63 percent in 2001 and 6 percent more in 2002.

Trademarks featuring soldier images were down 19 percent in 2001 but rose 14 percent in 2002 before increasing more sharply last year.

Some trademarks had overtly patriotic themes, such as "Spirit of America'' for shirts or "Let Freedom Ring'' for prerecorded patriotic-themed music, but others were tied to companies using America or American in their titles.

Gunderson added that a large number of new trademarked images of the Statue of Liberty were related to New York tourism, the New York New York casino in Las Vegas or for Liberty Mutual insurance companies.

The nation's flag dealers have noticed a similar trend. U.S. flag sales are off slightly after strong gains during the past two years, but sales of yellow-ribbon products to support the troops are up.

"People feel that the flag business has slacked off a little, but we're actually doing better than we were right after Sept. 11,'' said Belinda Kennedy, president of the National Independent Flag Dealers Association.

"It was just so crazy for so long. (But) we aren't being overwhelmed the way we were,'' said Kennedy, owner of Alabama Flag & Banner in Huntsville, Ala.