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Memetic Theory, Trademarks & the Viral Meme Mark

Posted: 25 Oct 2012 Last revised: 19 Apr 2013

Shontavia Johnson

Drake University Law School

Date Written: October 25, 2012


This Article proposes that memetic theory is a useful lens through which to view trademarks, particularly as there has been a rise in the number of applications for culture-driven words and catchphrases in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Memetic theory, or memetics, is an emerging field of scientific study related to how units of information evolve and replicate. These units of information, called memes, undergo a process of natural selection similar to that of genes. To view trademarks as memes, they must not only exist in the proper form, but they must also subsist in an environment where replication, variation and selection exist in appropriate measure. Under current trademark jurisprudence, over-protection and over-enforcement of trademarks pose a threat to the natural selection environment. The recent phenomenon of trademark applications for culture- driven words and catchphrases are but one manifestation of the interaction between memetic theory and trademark law. Applying memetics calls for a reassessment of current legal standards, and the Article concludes by offering further insight into where to explore the intersection between this new science and trademark law.

Keywords: trademark, meme, memetic theory, culture, science, evolution

JEL Classification: O34

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Shontavia, Memetic Theory, Trademarks & the Viral Meme Mark (October 25, 2012). Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming; Drake University Law School Research Paper No. 12-32. Available at SSRN:

Shontavia Johnson (Contact Author)

Drake University Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States

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