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.
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.
Read More: My Trademark Registration Lapsed
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.
- Attorney Ivan Hoffman: Personal Names: Trademark Issues
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office: Frequently Asked Questions About Trademarks
- Everyday Ethics: Trademarking Your Child: The Case of Blue Ivy Carter
- Chilling Effects: Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About ACPA
- Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law: What's In a Name? Apparently Not Trademark Protection
- International Trademark Association Bulletin: Creating and Protecting Rights in Personal Names
- Ohio State Bar Association: Celebrity Trademark Rights: Images v. Innuendos
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.