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.

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.

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.

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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.

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How to Search Trademark Names for Restaurants
 

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How to Copyright a Performing Name

Copyright law does not permit you to protect your performing name, as copyright law only allows for the protection of computer software and dramatic, literary and other artistic works. Although it is not possible to copyright your performing name, you may trademark your performing name in order to protect your rights. It will be easier to trademark your performing name if your performing name is an arbitrary name such as Led Zeppelin or Slayer. However, if you intend to use your own name you may still proceed to apply for a trademark, but you will need to prove that your name has acquired secondary meaning in the eyes of the public.

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.

How Do I Know If I'm Violating a Trademark?

A trademark identifies and distinguishes the origin of a product or service in the marketplace. It uses either a word, phrase, design or any combination of these. It helps people to differentiate between products and services. Businesses have exclusive rights to use their marks in commerce, so long as they do not violate another party's mark.

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