Celebrities’ Trademarks: It’s a Complicated World Out There

Jay-Z holds Blue Ivy, his daughter with Beyoncé

When you think about famous names such as Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Marylin Monroe or even Beyoncé, you realize that celebrities are a brand in and out of themselves, their name being recognized anywhere in the world, just like Coca-Cola or Google. And because they are so famous and a lot of productive business can be developed around their personas and stage (or silver screen) brands, some of them also filed official trademark applications under the United States Patent and Trademark Office regulations. But while ones only managed to trademark their last names, others went a little forward and filed for USPTO trademarks of their catch phrases and even (soon to be famous) children.

Let’s start with the classics

One of the most common examples when it comes to trademarking a name (in this case a celebrity name) is that of iconic star Frank Sinatra. The artist managed to brand his nameunder USPTO classification of “Entertainment Services – Namely, Presentation of Musical Performances Rendered by a Singer.” The Ohio State Bar Association consider this classification as maybe one of the greatest understatements that ever showed on USPTO registrations, but the case is simple: celebrities can trademark their names.

Now, if your name happens to be Sinatra too, or Monroe, or Winfrey, for that matter, the USPTO will not grant you a trademark on your surname, unless it has “acquired distinctiveness.” You can find out more information regarding what is accepted and what is not when it comes to trademarking a first or last name from specialized attorneys, together with the criteria mandatory to gather in order to file for “acquired distinctiveness.”

Again, we have the famous Newman’s Own food company that bears the name of celebrity actor Paul Newman. A case of trademarking a last name, but a name that definitely had the distinctiveness required by the USPTO.

Welcome to the modern times

In today’s world, we have tons of celebrities that protected their brand names, personas and entrepreneurial skills under a USPTO trademark. We have famous singers Adele and Rihanna and superstar basketball player Michael Jordan among others. Remember the old classic Nike’s Air Jordans? And the athlete’s own name branded on everything from perfumes to food products?

On the other side of the barrier, celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Serena Williams managed to recover their domain names from malevolent cybersquatters, according to Wolf Greenfield, a company specialized in intellectual property law.

Trademarking a name that is famous allows celebrities not only to develop business of their own (such as Rihanna’s fashion line), but to be protected against their name being used without their consent.

Branded famous children

They are only famous due to their parent’s names (and efforts), but the future was already written for some celeb kids. Madonna is branding her teenage daughter Lourdes, and the application files submitted by the Beyoncé – Jay-Z couple in the favor of their child Blue Ivy Carter kept the headlines and the social media buzzing for days last year.

However, celebrities don’t stop at getting trademarks for their own names or their offspring’. Some of them managed to be ridiculed by the press for filing trademark applications for their own personal catch phrases, more or less famous, or even a physical posture, such as the case of NFL player Tim Tebow. Some celebs faced and even won legal disputes including personal mottos, and we are talking about Oprah winning a trademark lawsuit against plaintiff O Magazine, last year. As we said, it’s a complicated world out there and if you’re thinking of getting a trademark for your name, it’s better to see an attorney, as celebrities’ examples can only confuse you.

Henry Samuelson

Watching the business world from within, writing about everything that needs our attention

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