Monday, July 21, 2008

Can your name be a trademark?

Dear Rich: Can I get a trademark on my own name so that I can use it exclusively for the crafts items I make and sell? Or do I automatically have a trademark on my name?I'm so glad you asked. The short answers to your questions are "maybe" and "no." Yes, it is your name, but that, by itself, does not create trademark rights. Otherwise, anyone named Gallo could sell wine (or cheese) without getting sued; anyone named Victoria (or Victor) could have a secret; and anyone named Violet Blue could offer sex advice. As with all trademarks, the rights go to the first person to use the name in connection with certain goods and services.
In fact, your name creates a bit of a disadvantage when seeking to register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can't register a personal name with the USPTO unless you can demonstrate that consumers associate your name with your goods or services (referred to as "secondary meaning"). In other words, you need to show that you've been using it for a while to sell goods or services, or have invested some money in advertising the name.
All of this is kind of ironic since the earliest trademarks were the names of crafts people who marked their pottery and silverware with their names.
You can get an idea of whether anyone else is using a similar personal name for crafts by checking the USPTO trademark database (click "Trademarks," then "Search TM database"). Of course, one solution is to combine the use of your name with another term -- for example, Dear Rich -- and then you can go after those competitors with identical monikers or annoyingly similar ones, as well.