OpenAI's Battle for Brand Protection: Can GPT be trademarked?

Sometimes a company may experience sudden success with a product or service before they are able to register a trademark for it. This is the case of OpenAI and the current success of their GPT model. The AI research organization now faces multiple challenges in protecting their brand and preventing others from using similar names or trademarks for their products and services.


Igor Demcak

In December 2022, OpenAI applied to register a number of word trademarks such as “GPT” and “ChatGPT” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Another application for “GPT-4” followed in March 2023. The company has also submitted an application to expedite the procedure due to the ever-increasing number of GPT-named AI apps. However, the USPTO rejected the application as OpenAI's attorneys were unable to provide evidence to justify the need for expediting the procedure.

OpenAI is an artificial intelligence (AI) research organization founded in December 2015 by a group of tech industry leaders, including Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, and others. The goal of OpenAI is to advance AI in a way that is safe and beneficial for humanity. OpenAI conducts research in various areas of AI, including natural language processing, reinforcement learning, computer vision, robotics, and more. They also develop and release AI models and tools that are available to the public to further advance the field of AI and encourage collaboration and innovation.

OpenAI has achieved many notable accomplishments in the field of artificial intelligence, some of them including “DALL-E”, an AI model capable of generating novel images from textual descriptions, and “GPT-3”, one of the largest and most advanced language models in the world, which can generate natural-sounding language that is almost indistinguishable from human writing. 

According to Digitimes Asia, although OpenAI's ChatGPT has not launched in China, its China-based subsidiary tried to register the trademark of its generative AI service ChatGPT, potentially eyeing the Chinese market. Despite the evident success of the company, the registration of the aforementioned trademarks is not a given, as there are a number of reasons that could potentially block the registration process or potentially prolong it.

Can GPT function as a trademark?

In general, a trademark must be distinctive and not descriptive or generic, meaning that it should not simply describe the product or service being offered. As an AI language model, “GPT” (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a term commonly used in the machine learning and natural language processing community to refer to a specific type of model architecture. 

The term “GPT” itself is not a product or a brand name, but rather a descriptive term used to identify a specific type of language model. Therefore, it is unlikely that GPT can be trademarked as it does not function as a brand name or a product identifier. However, as a leading AI research organization, OpenAI may be able to use its reputation to establish the term “GPT” as a brand name or a product identifier for its specific GPT-based language models, such as GPT-2 or GPT-3.

However, even if the “GPT” trademark is successfully accepted by the USPTO examiner, it will be moved to the opposition period, where other trademark owners will have 30 days to argue why the agency should deny the “GPT” trademark. Currently, the USPTO database lists over 50 trademarks including the word “GPT”, a significant portion of which are registered for class 42: Software as a service (SAAS) services featuring software using artificial intelligence for image, audio, and text generation.

On the other hand, if the company is successful in acquiring the trademark, it will have the right to block other companies from using the word "GPT" in the name of their AI products. Companies will have to obtain OpenAI's permission to use "GPT" from then on if they wish to avoid potential trademark infringement claims.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder & CEO of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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