Harley Davidson Attempted To Trademark its Classic Sound


I was doing some reading the other day and found out that Harley Davidson actually tried to have the sound of their bikes trademarked. I know it sounds crazy, but Harley Davidson really thought they could protect others from copying that chug of its classic V-twin engine.


For more than six years, Harley Davidson had submitted trademark applications only to be turned down at the federal level. After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, Harley Davidson decided to cease and desist when it comes to federal protection against the teardrop-shaped gas tanks, rear and front fenders and the overall look, feel and sound of Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson is just plain tired of the competitor’s attempts at legal action when it comes to the classic sound of the Harley Davidson engine.

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Trade marking a sound is nearly impossible with the federal government protecting only 23 of the 730,000 requests for sound protection. Three of the sound patents that were granted include the AT & T that is spoken over musical sounds, the three-notes that NBC uses and the roar of the MGM lion.

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The reason that Harley Davidson started a sound trademark in the first place is that the cooperate office thought the chug, chug; chug of their popular motorcycles would become like the word Kleenex and nylon which have become generic.


Harley Davidson filed their first sound trademark in 1994 believing that their sound should be trademarked because of the notes in the exhaust, and the distinctive design. In 1991, Harley Davidson started working with the Sound Quality Working Group founded by Cortex, Sennheiser, Yamaha, SMS, Bruel, Orfield Labs, TEAC, and Kjaer.


When the trademark was filed, competitors of Harley Davidson filed complaints opposing the sound trademark application. Nine of these competitors argued that the sound of their engines sounded similar to Harley Davidson. The competitor’s complaints, along with the trademark agency insiders, actually questioned Harley Davidson’s ability to prove that the sound and design of its engines was uniquely Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson finally cancelled the trademark applications in 2000.