THE TORONTO STAR INTERVIEWS EB: Drake hopes to put his stamp on YOLO trademark


Drake hopes to put his stamp on YOLO trademark

By Ryan Porter
Published on Wednesday January 16, 2013

Drake may be the most famous disciple of YOLO, the acronym for “you only live once” popularized in his 2011 single “The Motto,” but it remains to be seen whether the Toronto rapper will get his wish and have merchandisers cut him a cheque for its usage.

The 26-year-old hip-hop star posted a photo last month of shelves filled with snapback ball caps that read YOLO.

“Walgreens …. you gotta either chill or cut the cheque,” he wrote. A minute later, he added, “Macy’s … same goes for you,” alongside a photo of a T-shirt featuring Charlie Brown and Snoopy that read, “YOLO is my motto.”

In just over a year, the embrace-the-moment acronym has risen from a forgotten pop culture blink to a Twitter trending topic as popular as it is polarizing. In 2012, it was named both the Oxford American Dictionary’s runner-up word of the year (after “GIF”) and made Lake Superior State University’s list of words that should be banished.

While Drake can claim credit for the current YOLO craze, profiting off it is another matter. In Canada, the rapper is late to the YOLO wars, where trademark applications have already been made by a weight-loss empire, adventure tourism company, frozen yogurt franchise and wine label, among others.

A Toronto-based company even claims to have applied for YOLO trademarks on the rap superstar’s behalf. Online furniture retailer That Guy Corp. applied for trademarks on “YOLO You Only Live Once” for fragrances in February and for a unique YOLO graphic for cosmetics in December.

When reached by phone, the trademark’s owner claimed to be a personal friend of Drake’s. “Pretty much if I own it, he owns it,” he said, declining to provide his name. Drake’s Canadian lawyer, Chris Taylor of Taylor Klein Oballa LLP would say only, “We are not commenting on Drake’s activity in this area.”

That Guy Corp.’s YOLO graphic, which features a zigzag line resembling a heart monitor, has been trademarked for 54 different cosmetic products including aftershave, nail polish, and hair dye.

But as for apparel such as Macy’s Snoopy tees, in Canada, that cheque would go to Vancouver-based weight-loss company Yolo Medical, which owns the trademark on YOLO apparel. They began acquiring “YOLO” and “YOLO You Only Live Once” trademarks in 2009. Today, they own 26 YOLO trademarks in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

It would help Drake’s case if he’d coined the term. But that distinction goes to reality star Adam Mesh, the runner-up on the 2003 reality show Average Joe. Over the phone from Miami, Mesh explains YOLO originated when he shortened his mantra “you only live once but if you do it right, once is enough” to fit on his phone’s screensaver: hence “YOLO.”

When the amiable New York stock broker returned to reality TV for Average Joe: Adam Returns in 2004, he was decked out in YOLO hats and t-shirts. A clothing line followed and soon People magazine was reporting that Jessica Simpson had purchased YOLO bracelets.

But even then, a Philadelphia sportswear company held the YOLO trademark, independent of the “you only live once” link. Mesh opted not to fight it. “When it was getting back into play, everyone was like, why didn’t you trademark this?” Mesh says. “Which was annoying, because we tried to.”

Drake is the latest catchphrase-coining celebrity to wade into the murky waters of trademark law. Johnny Carson won a landmark case in 1983 against the company Here’s Johnny Portable Toilets Inc. for their twist on his Tonight Show introduction. After Carson died in 2005, the company made another attempt to register the trademark. It was rejected, again, in 2010.

Celebs who’ve successfully trademarked their catchphrases include Paris Hilton, who trademarked “That’s hot” in 2007. Mike Sorrentino, a.k.a. The Situation, has filed for 33 trademarks including “GTL” (gym, tan, laundry).

Houston Rockets basketball sensation Jeremy Lin applied in February to trademark “Linsanity.” And anyone who takes issues with gold medal winning American swimmer Ryan Lochte trademarking his signature “jeah” has until Feb. 6 to contest it.

Charlie Sheen applied to trademark 22 phrases during the height of his warlock days, including “winning,” “epic” and “Sheenius.” Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse trademarked “bam,” Nadya Suleman trademarked “OctoMom,” and former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley trademarked “three-peat.”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z attempted to trademark their daughter’s name, Blue Ivy, but were barred because it conflicted with event planning company Blue Ivy Events.

As for Drake, entertainment lawyer Eb Reinbergs of Three60Legal says the rapper will have a hard time arguing his right to trademark YOLO in Canada for clothing.

“You can challenge it and say, I’ve used it before,” Reinbergs says. “But used it on what? Drake hasn’t used it on anything.”

And while that YOLO ball cap may indeed be a trademark violation, it’s the owners of pre-existing YOLO trademarks who should ask retailers to “cut the cheque” — not Drake.

Reinbergs’ advice? “You only live once,” he says. “So register your trademark before somebody else does.”

A Brief History of YOLO

2003-ish: Average Joe star Adam Mesh shortens his motto “you only live once but if you do it right, once is enough” to “YOLO” to fit on his phone.

July 2006: The Strokes launch Operation YOLO to promote their single “You Only Live Once.”

Sept. 1, 2008: Fort Lauderdale’s YOLO restaurant opens. Rick Ross visits.

Nov. 15, 2011: Drake’s album Take Care drops. On “Lord Knows,” Rick Ross raps “YOLO, you only live once.”

Nov. 29, 2011: Drake releases “The Motto” featuring the hook “You Only Live Once, that’s the motto n—-, YOLO.”

Dec. 16, 2011: Zac Efron debuts a YOLO tattoo.

April 12, 2012: A fan streaks during a Blue Jays game with YOLO written on his chest.

Dec. 25, 2012: Drake demands money for YOLO apparel.