CAN YOU TRADEMARK a common phrase such as let's roll? The Todd M. Beamer Foundation has been attempting to do just that, so as to prevent anyone from exploiting the words commercially without its approval.
Beamer was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11 following an attempt by passengers to wrest control of the flight from hijackers. He had been on the phone with an air phone operator who heard him say "Let's roll!" as he and others prepared to act. The Beamer family later publicized the passengers' courageous behavior, and Beamer's words soon became a catch phrase symbolizing the nation's resolve. Rocker Neil Young even released a commemorative song titled "Let's Roll."
On September 26 the Todd M. Beamer Foundation sought trademark protection for the phrase from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Doug MacMillan, the foundation's executive director, told the Associated Press that any money from the commercial use of the words should benefit the families of those killed in the attacks. The foundation, he said, would market T-shirts and hats featuring the words and donate the profits to victims' families.
"We think it's horrible for people to want to profit off the events of Sept. 11," MacMillan told the A.P. "If there's anybody who...