The national Women’s March organization has abandoned its effort to trademark the words “women’s march,” bringing a two-year battle over who owns the words and the movement to a close.
Many organizers separate from the national Women’s March Inc. — headed by activists Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — celebrated the national group’s about-face as a victory for the movement. More than a dozen local organizations across the country formally opposed the national group’s trademark petition, claiming that no entity can own the words “women’s march” or the activism it inspired. Four of them sued.
“The name doesn’t belong to anyone,” said Jaquie Algee, a founding organizer and board president of Women’s March Chicago, one of the groups that sued the national organization. “When women were given the opportunity to vent and empower ourselves against what seemed to be an attack on women, the name really helped to define that moment and that activism.”
In a statement, Women’s March Inc. said it withdrew its U.S. Patent and Trademark Office application last month because the “process has become a distraction from important work in our movement. Therefore, we withdrew our application so our organization and the movement can go back to the work of building women’s political power.”
The Daily Beast first reported the dropped trademark application.
Women’s March Inc. filed for a trademark in March 2017, shortly after the Women’s March on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of pink-hatted women to Washington to stand against the newly elected President Trump and his agenda. Hundreds of other protests were held around the world in solidarity. Most were organized independently by local leaders, although many called their events the “Women’s March.”
When the rallies were over, many groups that formed out of those marches continued to organize. Most registered as independent nonprofit groups, and many gave themselves names including the words “Women’s March.”
But according to the national organization, there are fewer than 40 chapters recognized by the national group. This excludes organizations such as Women’s March Chicago, Women’s March D.C. and other regional groups.
“We all agreed in the beginning that we were going to call ourselves ‘Women’s March something’ so that we could convey a sense of unity. Women’s March Chicago has worked very hard to build our brand and build our name and build our connection to the community,” Algee said. “My hope always has been that we’re all out here trying to do the same thing, which is to help empower women.”
A year after the national organization filed for a trademark, the Patent and Trademark Office announced that it was considering granting the request, which would have allowed the group to control use of the Women’s March brand, including on merchandise and possibly in future events.
During a 30-day public comment period, 14 organizations filed notices of opposition with the trademark office, hoping it might prompt the group to withdraw its application.
Instead, the battle dragged on a year. Four organizations — Women’s March Chicago, Women’s March Los Angeles, March On and Women’s March Alliance — filed suit last year to stop Women’s March Inc. from getting a trademark.
“I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of this, paying attorneys fees and fighting with lawsuits,” said Emiliana Guereca, executive director of the Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation, which is independent from the national organization. “I don’t want to spend my time on that. I want to spend my time pushing for a feminist agenda. But we wanted a fair process.”
Sarsour has denied that the national organization would have used the trademark to regulate the names and actions of local activist groups. She said it was about creating “a unified message and unified platform.”
Sam P. Israel, a New York-based intellectual-property lawyer, said other national groups have done well without a trademark to protect their brand, including Alcoholics Anonymous.
“It’s a fairly generic term, ‘women’s march,’ and it certainly doesn’t signify a single source of origin with all the marches and the groups that started off using that name,” Israel said. “No particular one has claim on the original Women’s March, so I think it would have been a long shot for them to get the trademark anyway.”
To prove to the government why the organization deserved to be granted a trademark, Israel said, the national organization probably would have had to make a commercial argument — saying it needed the trademark to make money off the name.
Guereca said she hopes the dropped trademark application presents an opportunity for Women’s March activists to redefine the movement as one that belongs to all groups formed under its banner.
“The ideal solution would be if we could come up with a way to co-own the brand,” Guereca said, “because we all built this together.”
After several controversies rocked the movement last year, including accusations of anti-Semitism, financial mismanagement and infighting, Guereca said she hopes the national group’s leaders have learned to listen to local organizers and choose their battles.
“With the national organization, we did not elect these leaders, and many local organizers feel like they should not get to speak for us,” Guereca said. “Now, moving forward, I hope we’ll all get to have a say.”