Products of Change


Mon 09 May 2022 | by Rob Hutchins

Black Lives Matter Licensing Movement secures full trademark rights in landmark ruling

Two years on from the tragic death of George Floyd and the uproar that sparked its global movement, Black Lives Matter has been granted the full trademark rights for Black Lives Matter Licensing in a landmark ruling that signifies positive change in the licensing space. Black Lives Matter Licensing is a non-partisan, unifying arm of the Black Lives Matter Movement here in the UK and a commercial endeavour established to amplify black voices across the consumer products sector while generating revenue to benefit the black community. Since 2020, Black Lives Matter Licensing has been fighting its way through trademark law to secure credibility and legitimacy of a licensing programme developed to drive positive social change. The team had faced challenges in securing the rights owing to the highly-charged natured of the topic. In the immediate wake of the death of George Floyd, a number of attempts had been made to trademark terms surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, including those made by individuals outside of the black community accused of ‘exploiting black lives for financial gain.’ Most notoriously were the moves made by a white British businessman to trademark the phrases ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe’. Those attempts were quickly squashed by public outcry and an intervention from the Intellectual Property Office. Black Lives Matter Licensing has put in the groundwork over the last two years to convey authenticity of purpose in supporting and empowering the black community and being a part of positive social change. “This is a huge development for our movement,” Saphia Maxamed, founder of Black Lives Matter Licensing Movement told Products of Change. “As licensing professionals, we know how important a trademark is. It’s the very existence of our industry. This gives us credibility and legitimacy of our licensing programme. “Many attempts have been made to secure the trademarks for commercial purposes from outside the black community, making this a long road to go down that has been faced with many challenges and people telling us it can’t be done. “For us, we were unstoppable anyway. We knew our strategy was authentic and all the intentions of our movement were set purely for the purpose of supporting and empowering the black community and being part of the change. Systemic change is not an overnight job, hence we set up as a collective to drive meaningful change with longevity in mind. “Having the trademark is a milestone that would help our partners and retailers to be part of the change in a much more meaningful way, but also with the right standards set by the committee.” Two years in the making  Initial conversations from the Black Lives Matter Licensing Movement were met with resistance from licensing and IP lawyers on the grounds that Black Lives Matter was a ‘state of mind’ that shouldn’t be capitalised upon. It was Saphia’s case, however, that businesses choosing to capitalise on the movement without returning investment into the black community would be exploiting black lives for personal gain. “To understand the journey, you have to go back to 2020 soon after George Floyd’s tragic death. We didn’t just want guys in the shade to sell t-shirts and keep the money with not a penny going back to the black community,” she explained. “Who was to police that?” Work began through an ‘endless succession of conversations’ with lawyers, legal scholars, partners, the committee and even retired licensing industry leaders, all geared towards “finding a solution and setting up good governance for the movement.” “This process has taken us two years to get here. We took all the advice and soldiered on to move forward,” said Saphia. “In the end, we chose to resist all the challenges that we were being told we would face. We took a chance and filed the trademarks ourselves. This was a risk worth taking and the rewards are evident. “Our industry is so strong and where there is a will, there is always a way. This is the proof.” The Black Lives Matter Licensing Movement has been making strong headway in the licensing space over those past two years, however, having already built a strong apparel range with Fashion UK and most recently partnered with the children’s audio system Tonies on a creative collaboration to bring better diversity and an authentic voice into its portfolio. The team is also having a number of discussions with retailers. “Retail is next on our list,” said Saphia. “We want to see a great activation in major stores. Our focus now is collaboration with retailers. We have a very strong style guide and cool samples that we launched at BLE 2021, covered by WGSN. These have been shared with retailers who have been keen to work with us, so it is just a matter of time before our retail launch.”