Who owns the brand 'Occupy Wall Street'?

What is the power of movement today? What kind of impact can movement marketing really have? How does a movement protect itself as it evolves and more and more people join the ranks around the planet? Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a good yardstick to find answers to these questions. Most interestingly the latter.

As the activists behind OWS began their anti-capitalist demonstrations over a month ago, no one could’ve predicted that they would be fighting for the right to their own name and stop people from cashing in on their movement.

Strangely, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

An Occupy Wall Street participant.

The ongoing protests, which were originally started by Adbusters, a Canadian-based not-for-profit, anti-consumerist organisation, are against social and economic inequality, corporate greed and alleged corruption in the financial services industry. Their slogan – 'we are the 99%' – refers to the differences in wealth in today’s society.

With copycat demonstrations spreading across the globe in over 900 cities worldwide, you can understand why the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ phrase has become a lucrative, household name. You could say that the movement has created a global brand in its own right. And when things get popular, people see opportunities to make a few bucks.

In fact, ever since the demonstrators started to camp out in New York’s Zuccotti Park, opportunist traders have been quick to cash in on the OWS movement. There are vendors on every street corner selling Occupy Wall Street paraphernalia. On the Internet, you can easily find iPhone cases branded with the term. There’s even a condoms supplier capitalizing on the movement, if you believe some reports.

It’s not surprising that the group has applied to trademark its OWS phrase before anyone else tries to make any further money at their expense. They quite rightly want to protect themselves so their anti-consumerist cause isn’t undermined.

But they’re not the only ones filing an application to gain the rights. Others have put themselves forward for their own financial gain. According to recent news reports, another applicant wants to splash the movement’s name across a range of products, such as bumper stickers and t-shirts. And there are others trying to apply as well.

It will be some time before we discover who has won the trademark. It could take up to three months for officials at the United States Patent and Trademark Office to decide.

No matter who gains ownership rights to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ name, one thing is for sure. It seems absurdly ironic that the Occupy Wall Street activists now have to protect their movement from the very thing they’re fighting against – and that’s consumerism.

Scott Goodson is founder of cultural movement agency StrawberryFrog. His first book Uprising (with its own community) will be published soon.

Updated Date: Nov 15, 2011 14:04 PM

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