Registering an aural trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office can be difficult. Harley-Davidson famously tried for years to get this protection for the purr of its V-twin motorcycle engine, only to be locked in legal limbo for so long that they gave up and withdrew their request. Other sounds don't have those kinds of issues, especially ones you hear on TV shows, movies, and commercials every day. Here are 14 popular sounds that are currently trademarked.
1. Mockingjay Whistle
Serial Number: 85409089
Lions Gate Entertainment is understandably protective of its lucrative Hunger Games franchise, so it's no surprise the studio trademarked Rue's four-note song, described to the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "a human whistling a G4 eighth note, followed by a Bb4 eighth note, followed by an A4 eighth note, followed by a D4 half note, in the key of G minor."
2. Law & Order's "Chung Chung"
Serial Number: 76641094
That iconic two-strike "chung chung" sound from Law & Order was created by composer Mike Post, who also wrote the show's theme song. "I sampled a jail door slamming, I sampled a couple of other things, I put together this ‘clunk clunk,’ ‘ching ching,’ ‘chong chong,’ whatever the hell you want to call it," Post said in an interview.
"It’s not a sound effect," he added. "It’s actually a piece of music that gets a royalty…I call it the ‘ching ching’ because I’m making money off of it."
While Post gets a royalty, Universal holds the trademark, describing the sound as "two musical notes, a strike and a rapid rearticulation of a perfect fifth pitch interval, which in the key of C sounds the notes C and G, struck concurrently."
3. 60 Minutes' Ticking Stopwatch
Serial Number: 85793891
The iconic ticking of 60 Minutes' stopwatch was successfully trademarked by CBS. The above video is a full minute of that sound, just in case you've got some time to kill.
Serial Number: 3411881
5. Tarzan's Yell
Serial Number: 75326989
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. protects the intellectual property of the author and Tarzan creator, and it holds the trademark for his hero's yell, as made famous by actor Johnny Weissmuller. However, in the Tarzan books, Burroughs merely described this holler as "the victory cry of the bull ape." The trademark registration's language isn't quite as concise:
"A series of approximately ten sounds, alternating between the chest and falsetto registers of the voice, as follows - 1) a semi-long sound in the chest register, 2) a short sound up an interval of one octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound, 3) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 4) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 5) a long sound down one octave plus a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 6) a short sound up one octave from the preceding sound, 7) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 8) a short sound down a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 9) a short sound up a Major 3rd from the preceding sound, 10) a long sound down an octave plus a fifth from the preceding sound."
6. Darth Vader's Breathing
Serial Number: 77419252
LucasFilm trademarked the "sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator," better known as Darth Vader's robotically enhanced respiratory system. You know he's on the dark side because lawyers got involved.
7. Lightsaber Sound
Serial Number: 77419246
Use legal force, Luke.
The sound of a lightsaber, FYI, is described as "an oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor sound."
8. Pillsbury Doughboy Giggle
Serial Number: 76163189
Pillsbury owns the rights to this "childlike human giggle," but remember, trademark infringement is no laughing matter.
9. Taco Bell's Bell
Serial Number: 77805701
10. NYSE Bell
Serial Number: 76344794
That "clang clang" is "the sound of a brass bell tuned to the pitch D, but with an overtone of D-sharp, struck nine times at a brisk tempo, with the final tone allowed to ring until the sound decays naturally."
It's heard every workday morning on Wall Street...except when it isn't.
11. Mimsie's Meow
Serial Number: 75143671
Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Productions used Mimsie, a stage cat, for their logo, which was a spoof on the MGM lion's hearty roar (which is itself a trademarked sound). Apparently, the meow had to be added in post-production because Mimsie refused to perform for the cameras. They just captured her yawning and overlaid the now-trademarked sound.
12. Aflac Quack
Serial Number: 76307773
If you're in the park and hear a duck quacking the word "Aflac," please notify American Family Life Assurance Company as you may be witnessing a trademark violation.
13. ESPN's "DaDaDa DaDaDa"
Serial Number: 75676156
When you hear "six musical notes played in a fast tempo: 'D, C sharp, D, D, C sharp, D,'" you know some hot sports action is about to go down.
Grammy-winning composer John Colby created the short jingle in 1989, despite claims to the contrary from David St. Hubbins:
14. "You've Got Mail"
Serial Number: 75528557
In 1989, Elwood Edwards recorded a series of test greetings for Quantum Computer Services onto a cassette recorder at the behest of his wife, who worked for the company. The company soon changed their name to America Online, and those test greetings—"Welcome," "You've got mail," "File's done," "Goodbye"—were loaded into software that would eventually usher millions of people onto the Internet for the first time.
AOL allowed Warner Bros. to use the trademarked phrase for the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie of the same name, helping make Elwood's voice one of the most famous sounds of the 1990s (not that he needed the help).
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2021.