No restrictions on Boston motto

A year after two Emerson College students came up with the phrase "Boston Strong" and later started selling T-shirts to raise money for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, no one organization or person owns the phrase and likely never will.

That's because any person or business that has applied to own the "Boston Strong" motto has been turned away by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In rejecting nine applications from such businesses as a coffee company, a Boston-based T-shirt company and even Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams, the examining attorney for the USPTO has reasoned that "because consumers are accustomed to seeing this slogan or motto commonly used in everyday speech by many different sources ... the mark fails to function as a trademark."

Boston trademark attorney Susan Mulholland said that, in its "Boston Strong" ruling, the patent and trademark office is being consistent with the way it has decided on similar phrases in the past.

"They're basically saying that everyone can use it because it grew out of a newsworthy event," said Mulholland, a partner at the Boston firm Gesmer Updegrove.

Mulholland said people and companies that tried to trademark "Let's roll" after it was reported that 9/11 plane passenger Todd Beamer used the phrase were similarly stopped.

"'Boston Strong' is a message, it's an attitude, and it doesn't speak to who made the items, so no one really owns it," Mulholland said.

The negative of the ruling could be that anyone can use it at will, so individuals can peddle merchandise to perhaps cash in on the anniversary of the tragedy without giving back as others have done.

"Boston Strong" was first used on the day of the race last year by Emerson students Nicholas Reynolds and Chris Dobens, who went on to sell more than 59,000 shirts with the phrase on it. They raised close to $900,000 for the One Fund, a charity specifically created to raise money for the victims.

Other companies used the logo to raise money for the One Fund, including Boston-based hat and apparel company '47 Brand, which donated $1.4 million from the sales of its "Boston Strong" hats and shirts.