Can Celebrities Trademark Their Names?

By Cindy Hill

A trademark can be any words or designs that help consumers distinguish the goods or services of one person or company from others. Trademarks are established by using the mark in commerce -- that is, registration is not necessary -- but registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allows the trademark holder to sue to enforce the trademark. Celebrities can reap economic benefits by registering their names as trademarks.

A trademark can be any words or designs that help consumers distinguish the goods or services of one person or company from others. Trademarks are established by using the mark in commerce -- that is, registration is not necessary -- but registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allows the trademark holder to sue to enforce the trademark. Celebrities can reap economic benefits by registering their names as trademarks.

Trademarking a Name

Most people cannot secure a trademark registration for their personal names. Personal names can only be registered as trademarks if they have acquired what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refers to as "secondary meaning." Secondary meaning is when the name has become closely associated with a particular product or service, which can include an entertainment service such as singing. Celebrities can successfully seek trademark protection of their names to protect the financial integrity of their name as a brand.

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Advantages of Trademark

When a celebrity secures trademark on her name, she helps protect the financial integrity of that name, which can be a significant financial asset. Unscrupulous businesses may attempt to make money by using a celebrity's name, implying that celebrity has endorsed or has an ownership interest in their product when it is not the case. Registering a trademark allows the celebrity to sue to preclude other people from using the name without permission. Trademark registration also provides the celebrity's estate with stronger means to protect the economic value of the celebrity's name after death.

Trademark Registration

Applications for trademark registration can be made online through the Trademark Electronic Application System of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Search the online trademark database first, to determine if a similar name is already trademarked or has a registration application pending. Once the application is submitted along with the required filing fee, it may take the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between one year and several years to process the registration application.

Rising Significance

Trademark registration of names is taking on added significance with the rise of Internet marketing. The U.S. Congress adopted a law called the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act to protect owners of financially valuable names, including the names of celebrities and businesses, against individuals who would register those valuable names as domain names. The ACPA allows owners of distinctive names and trademarks -- even unregistered trademarks -- to preclude others from registering a distinctive name as an Internet domain name without permission.

Protect your brand. Register My Trademark Now
Getting Rights to a Singing Name

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What Is a Trademark's Duration?

A trademark identifies a particular manufacturer of goods, using a particular phrase, design or symbol. Designs, words or symbols used to identify a provider of services are called service marks, although there is no practical legal difference between trademarks and service marks. The mark ensures consumers can easily identify a particular company as the source of a product, and encourages brand loyalty. It also distinguishes and sets apart a particular company’s goods and services from others. This encourages companies to maintain consistent quality standards in the goods and services they produce. In some cases, trademark protection extends beyond words or symbols, encompassing "trade dress." For example, if a fitness drink company packaged its drinks in unique, triangle-shaped bottles, that shape would be entitled to trademark protection.

Example of Breaking the Trademark Law

The most common methods of violating trademark law include trademark infringement and trademark dilution. Although trademark infringement and trademark dilution lawsuits are the most often used methods for protecting trademarks, it is also possible to incur legal liability under theories related to unfair competition law such as misrepresentation and passing off. Finally, there are also anti-cyber-squatting laws aimed at protecting misuse of website domain names.

How to Nationally Trademark a Name

A trademark demonstrates the exclusive right to use a specific mark in trade or commerce. The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a mark as a symbol, design, word or name or any combination thereof. Although the right to use a trademarked name is established through legitimate use in business, national registration provides additional benefits such as the right to bring legal action against unauthorized use of the name.

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