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Developing a ‘sound brand’ or ‘sound identity’ can form an integral part of a business. Whether it is through a catchy vocal jingle or memorable instrumental tune associated with the brand, this can play into how consumers perceive a brand. Sounds can help reach a target audience that cannot be met by visual marketing. This article will explain what sound branding is and how you can protect a sound in Australia.

What Is Sound Branding?

Sound branding or ‘audio logos’ are the auditory equivalent of a visual logo. Since the advent of radio, many brands have created soundbites that last between a few seconds to a few minutes, to capture and engage consumers’ attention to provoke a mental response by the listener. 

The Earworms You Have Not Been Able To Escape 

If you grew up watching television or listening to the radio, chances are you have encountered several memorable advertisements containing sounds or jingles that are instantly associated with a brand. Perhaps some of these tunes remind you of your childhood, or a certain product you purchased (and may still own). 

A few audio logos have stood the test of time and have managed to have a lasting effect on consumers. Below are some great examples of what makes a powerful sound mark. 

McDonald’s

Developed in 2003, the McDonald’s slogan ‘I’m lovin’ it’, accompanied by the ever catchy “ba da ba ba ba” hook, is now forever ingrained in the minds of children and adults alike. 

Since launching the popular hook, McDonald’s has translated the slogan into multiple languages and customised the slogan and tune to adapt to numerous regions and cultures. There has been some controversy surrounding the original writer and creator of this jingle. However, the controversy has hardly made a dent in the brand’s popularity, and the tune remains as fresh as ever. 

Netflix

The COVID-19 pandemic has also meant a lot of time indoors indulging in the guilty pleasure of Netflix. Making up a total of 0.04 seconds, the very distinctive Netflix introductory sound makes up a large part of the company’s branding. 

The audio is composed of two sixteenth note timpani strikes on D2 and D3, simultaneously with which are played three dotted half notes on D2, D4, and D5to make up the short but commanding ‘ta-dum’ sound. Over time, consumers have associated this sound with the joyous feeling of binge-watching tv shows or settling in to watch a new film release. 

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s first originally developed series, House of Cards, you may have also picked up that the Netflix introductory soundbite is, in fact, taken from the final scene in season 2 of House of Cards.

How Can I Protect A Sound Or Jingle In Australia? 

In Australia, you can protect your brand’s jingle by way of a sound trade mark. A sound trade mark is anything auditory. It can be anything from a complex orchestral piece to a simple tapping noise. It can also be a vocal recording or a combination of voice and other sounds. The sound trade mark will grant protection of the tune in the classes of goods and services applied for. 

When applying for a sound trade mark, you must also supply a clear and concise description of the trade mark which represents an endorsement to the application, along with a graphic representation. The description and the recorded representation of the trade mark should define all the details which constitute the trade mark. During the application process, you must supply a recording of the sound on an acceptable medium that allows for replaying (for example, MP3 files). 

It is important to remember that while including a graphic representation of the sound mark or adding an endorsement, musical notation is acceptable as a graphical representation of a sound mark. However, a lengthy piece of musical notation (like the complete score of an orchestra or piano piece) is unlikely to meet registration requirements. Additionally, the mere name of a specific piece of music is not acceptable as a graphical representation.  

How Can I Enforce Protection Over My Sound? 

If you are the owner of a sound trade mark, you are eligible for certain rights. You can enforce these rights under legal proceedings. In Australia, IP Australia will not police your rights or launch legal proceedings on your behalf. Therefore, you must monitor the marketplace and watch for any instances of infringement. 

It may be useful to develop an infringement strategy when you apply and achieve registration for a sound trade mark. An infringement strategy involves assessing your rights and setting parameters for beginning (and ending) infringement action. It would be beneficial to discuss this with a registered trade mark attorney or intellectual property lawyer. 

Your strategy should include the following elements, described by IP Australia (further information also found here):

Identification

You should keep records of the IP you own as well as permission or licences to use IP. 

Proactive action

Take measures to limit the incidence of infringement. 

Detection

You should be periodically reviewing the products and advertising of competitors to look for any signs of infringement. 

Selective enforcement

Define a process to identify who you would bring action against and a level of action appropriate to the infringement. For example, it may be uneconomical to pursue legal action against people taping a sound recording for personal use. However, if a corporation uses a recording for a public event, you may consider taking action.

Key Takeaways

Sound trade marks can help reach a target audience that visual marketing does not meet. If you are the owner of a sound trade mark, you are eligible for certain rights, which you can enforce under legal proceedings. Therefore, it may be useful to develop an infringement strategy when applying for a sound mark. 

If you need assistance applying for a sound mark or developing an infringement strategy for your registered sound, get in touch with LegalVision’s intellectual property lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can a sound brand bring to my business?

Sound branding can reach customers that visual branding cannot reach, and it may bring up a sense of nostalgia or familiarity for customers.

How can I protect my sound branding?

You should implement an infringement strategy, to monitor and enforce against any infringement. Be selective in your enforcement and consider all of your enforcement options, as it may not be worth it to bring legal action against every infringement.

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