Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How do famous people stop the use of their name?

Dear Rich: What if I want to register my name as a trademark and I am a (relatively) famous actress/model? I believe that performing in the public eye for the last few years has given my name enough secondary meaning to qualify it by USPTO standards. How do Nelson Mandela or Brigitte Bardot go about stopping the use of their name in products? I searched in the TESS database at the USPTO and the name isn't used by someone else. What class of service or goods does that kind of registration fall under? And do I have to have an actual logo to qualify? I'm hoping that you may know the answer to this question before I spend $400 trying to register the name. First of all the Dear Rich Staff needs to know if you are really a famous actress/model or whether this is a ("what if") question because if you are a famous actress/model, we immediately move your question ahead of the street performer from Romania who wants to know if they can wear a Mickey Mouse costume. Also, assuming you are a famous actress/model we're curious how you determine the order of the two terms. Does "actress" come first because you do more acting (time spent), because it's more lucrative (money earned), because that's the way you think of yourself (self-perception theory), or  that's the way others want you to think of yourself (peer pressure perception). In other words are we lawyer/bloggers or blogger/lawyers? 
Right, you had a question (or questions). No, you don't need a logo to register at the USPTO. You can register your name (assuming you're aware of the rules for personal names). As for the appropriate class of goods, you would choose whatever goods (or services) you plan to sell using your name. For example, if you're Chuck Norris, that might be exercise equipment and nunchucks. If you're Brigitte Bardot, that might be swimwear and non-fur wearing apparel
Right of publicity and trademarks. You're mixing trademark protection and the legal protection offered by the right of publicity (ROP). Under the ROP, anybody can stop the unauthorized use of their name to sell products. Trademark protection is used to make sure that a person or entity has exclusive rights to use their name on the products and to take advantage of the predictable and uniform federal trademark laws. (ROP is a patchwork of state laws.) The reason we associate celebrities with the right of publicity is because non-celebrities are not usually used to sell stuff. (There's a reason they call it the George Foreman grill, which by the way is why we have to wind up this answer as we're kind of in a hurry to unpack our new GF indoor/outdoor grill.
PS: federal trademark registration can be accomplished for $275.