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Since it's not the exact trademarked slogan, it seems the answer would be straightforward - but I've learned that trademark/copyright law is anything but.

If the phrase, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a tuna melt" were used to advertise a product (not actually going to - just an example), would the owners of Ali's intellectual property have grounds to take action?

Evidently, the original slogan was used verbatim in an advertisement for an e-reader where the boxer's name was also used. This resulted in action against the e-reader manufacturer for, among other things, use of the slogan.

Would such advertisements be at risk if they were modified as shown above? And, of course, were devoid of mentioning/claiming any association with the owner of the original slogan.

I found another answer somewhat similar to this context but it pertained to writing. Any links to supporting material would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately my Google skills only go so far in this domain.

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The main issues are:

  • Are the two trademarks confusingly similar? (If yes, potential infringement, if no, no infringement). This is often a factual issue to be determined with market research.

  • Was the potentially infringed trademark used to sell products in the same economic market as the potentially infringing trademark? A trademark used to sell cars or clothes may not be protected in the markets of selling hotel rooms or computers.

  • Did the potentially infringed trademark have a geographic scope that includes some of the places that a potentially infringing trademark will be used? A mark used only in Arkansas probably isn't protected in Alberta.

  • Has the potentially infringed trademark lapsed from expiration of a registration and abandonment? If the registration has not been timely renewed and it is no longer being used to sell goods or services, it is available to be appropriated.

  • Has the potentially infringed trademark been so widely infringed that it is now a generic term (e.g. Xerox)?

  • Did the potentially infringed trademark ever acquire "secondary meaning" (i.e. an association in the public consciousness with a particular good or service from a particular vendor)? If it was too generic (e.g. "liquor" for a liquor store), or never acquired secondary meaning, it may never have been enforceable.

  • Was the potentially infringed trademark ever associated with a particular good or service? If not, it is a quote, and copyright considerations might apply (although copyright protection for short quotes is very weak), but not trademark law.

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It's indeed not straightforwards. Just taking the form you have, you see a pattern "{Verb} like a {noun}, {verb} like a {noun}". Are all such slogans trademarked?

I would wager a hotel could get away with something like "Check in like a race car driver, sleep like a king". Not saying it's a good slogan, but it's different enough from Ali's statement that you would not confuse the two.

Clearly there is a grey area. Is there a similarity in the words? That can be textual (puns), auditory (rhymes), categorical (same class of verb or noun), etcetera. With such a variety of possibilities, there is no definite answer. It's clear that a single slogan can't trademark the whole English language, so there is a limit, but the boundary is fuzzy.

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