Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: You’re Fired Like Donkey Kong!

Happy Veterans’ Day!

And thank you to veterans everywhere for your service.

Here’s something that could be kind of cool for you random military history research type people: Today through November 14, Ancestry.com is allowing free access to the military records they have in their database or that they have access to, including old West Point applicant letters from some of the U.S. military’s greatest leaders. Could be a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

But for today, we’re going to spend a rainy afternoon talking about trademarking random phrases. (And if it’s not raining where you are, please feel free to participate anyway.)

In 2004, Donald Trump filed a trademark application for the catchphrase “You’re fired!”. The catchphrase apparently so captivated the audience of Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice, that Trump felt he could capitalize on it by trademarking it. There is no word on how much extra dough is rolling in to the Trump empire as a result.

Now, Nintendo, the makers of the classic video-game franchise, Donkey Kong, have filed a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to trademark the phrase, “It’s on like Donkey Kong”.

I should probably reserve comment on that little tidbit, because I think I’ve only heard that phrase a total five times in my entire life, and I haven’t heard anyone say it in a decade. Does anyone use the phrase anymore? Perhaps they are trademarking it in an attempt to revive it.

But let’s get to your comments:

Do you ever say, “It’s on like Donkey Kong”? Should the U.S. Patent and Trademark office have to consider these types of requests? Are they a waste of time? If you could trademark a hackneyed/over-used/lazy/mildly humorous expressions to be your own, what would it be? What expression would you trademark for Skepchick?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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31 Comments

  1. Do you ever say, “It’s on like Donkey Kong”?

    No. This is the first time I’ve heard/read it.

    Should the U.S. Patent and Trademark office have to consider these types of requests?

    No.

    Are they a waste of time?

    Yes, and something of an infringement on freedom of speech, actually — in my non-legal-professional opinion.

  2. Being as that these catchphrases were not INVENTED by those wanting to claim them, they are absolutely a waste of time. Kinda like Paris Hilton wanting to claim “That’s hot.” Sorry, darling, but if other people want to plaster it all over something and make money off of it, they have just as much right as you.

    Being a part of its popularity does not equal ownership.

    As far as “It’s on like Donkey Kong,” I have used the phrase a handful of times, but I do hear it often, mostly from a few people in the habit of saying it.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with free-speech, as far as I can tell, though.

  3. Well, terms and phrases (in a marketing capacity) can be given legal protections (it’s been done for a long time), such as proper names for products and businesses and brand new words and catchphrases like “Threepeat” (Pat Riley). I was always iffy on the “You’re fired!” trademark…I imagine it’s protection is narrowly restricted in a media/entertainment space.

    Protecting sayings and phrases fall under the same reasoning behind protecting the written words of authors, journalists, songwriters, bloggers, etc. Just ask Monica Gaudio why such protections are necessary. Obviously, fair use still applies, so it’s not like saying it to your (tolerant) friends or using it in an informational, educational or satiric capacity would bring legal action down on you. You just can’t print your own cheap t-shirts with it and charge money for said products without Nintendo’s permission.

    Also, why didn’t they seek a trademark in 1992 when Ice Cube used it when it was “popular”? I forgot that phrase even existed until today…maybe the tv show ‘Chuck’ used it ironically recently? I don’t know.

  4. All that trademark crap is from lawyer land and I don’t pretend to understand it.

    What expression would you trademark for Skepchick?

    Rock me like Evelyn.

    Down under like Rebeccer.

    Nobody expects the Afternoon Inquisition!

  5. @davew: Well done, sir. Well Done.

    “Nobody Expects the Afternoon Inquisition” is a sure winner.

    Others that come to mind:

    “Almost as Famous as Elyse”

    “Skepchick: Where Clicking Sam’s Avatar Sends You Into a Recursive Pageload Vortex”

    “I’m Lovin’ It. In the Face. With Bears”

  6. Trademarking popular phrases must be an old idea. Back about 1967 I attended a talk by Leslie Charteris, the author of the Saint stories. He introduced himself by telling us how he made a living. He claimed he had trademarked the expression, “Let’s get out of here.” and thus was paid a royalty by the producer of every Western movie made.
    Be nice if this worked but it would make creative writing almost impossible.

  7. I often use “hardcore” to describe something to a great or extreme extent – a hardcore asskicking, a hardcore shopping spree, a hardcore, a hardcore schedule.

    I also use “trust” as an interjection, meaning that what is about to follow is not meant to be taken as a figure of speech, or metaphorically. Trust, I don’t handle rejection well. Trust, you’re about to get a smackdown. Trust, Sam comes up with some wierd AI’s.

    I guess I’d trademark those. And skepchick should trade mark “your face!”

    And, really, WTF is up with “on like donkey kong”. I get that there’s some hardcore love for old school nitendo, but, trust, that saying makes no sense. I’d understand it if it rhymed, like, It’s on like Khan, or, a pun, like “its about to be on like a light switch.

  8. I seem to recall, some time ago, something that went
    “Don’t high hat the monkey!”

    I think the patent argument is patently ridiculous. I thought the whole reason for INVENTING words for your products/company was so that you could protect it. (like Kodak, Xerox, etc.) The idea that a coined phrase can be patented? Money grubbing legalese in an overly litigious society.
    If it’s the new thing, then fine. I’ll adapt. I’ll patent the word “Dude”. That way anyone that uses it has to pay me money, and maybe it will eventually die out. With the money I earn from the videos on youtube alone, I can hire my own Taliban style cultural police to root out everyone else’s unauthorized use.

  9. that donkey kong phrase is pretty popular amongst military folks.

    some of them tend to get quite fond of stupid little phrases like that…

    *shrugs* no clue where it came from, or why it’s used. and I haven’t heard it since I left the military a few years back (thank FSM…)

    I remember a couple years ago or so, there was a similar fuss over McDonalds trying to patent/trademark (I can’t remember which…) ‘I’m loving it’ and (I think?…) ‘I’m Asian’ or some such silliness…

  10. that donkey kong phrase is pretty popular amongst military folks.

    Never heard it once, though I’ve been out a decade or so. Seems oddly…retro, or something.

    some of them tend to get quite fond of stupid little phrases like that…

    Were Chuck Norris jokes still “in”? :)

  11. I can imagine a company wanting to protect an advertising slogan. But the problem is you don’t have to alter it that much for it to still be recognisable as a play on that slogan, yet no longer be subject to the copyright.

    So there’s really no point. Unless, as stated earlier, you want to prevent other people making money off of your “work” (in the broadest sense of the word).

    So anyone selling T-shirts with “You’re fired!” would have to give Trump his well deserved share of the revenue. After all, if it hadn’t been for Trump, the phrase “You’re fired” on a T-shirt wouldn’t have sold nearly as many of them.

  12. I want to get a copyright on starting an answer to a question with the word “So…” (what’s that all about?). Also,I would like a few bucks every time a reporter uses “On the ground”.
    Can’t top davew’s suggestions for Skepchick :)

  13. “It’s on like Donkey Kong”? Never heard of it. But then I’ve never been in the military, and it sounds like the sort of gung-ho catchphrase which might be popular there.

    That said, trademarks must be limited to some particular business endeavour – typically a product or service. So I would support the trademarking of “It’s on like Donkey Kong” in situations requiring a morale boost due to imminent engagement with the enemy in a real-life theatre of war or other armed conflict … good luck with that, Nintendo.

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