What’s in a Name?
For thousands of years, trademarks have protected companies, celebrity brands, and individuals. From logos to catchphrases to specific words, trademarks can exist on myriad subjects in order to grant exclusive usage rights to the owner.
For the most part, trademarks have countless benefits. They protect people’s intellectual property from being misused or profited upon by competitors and strangers. They allow artists and businesses to maintain certain integrity around the products they make or promote. Lastly, trademarks help prevent imitators from scamming innocent people by slapping a famous brand or name onto a false product.
But when does a trademark go too far?
An important ethical question regarding trademarks came to prominence in this week’s headlines after singer Kylie Minogue fought back against Kylie Jenner over legal rights to something they both hold very dear: the name Kylie.
Do some celebrity trademarks go just one step too far?
Last week, Kylie Jenner, reality TV star and 18-year-old half-sister of Kim Kardashian, sought a trademark for protection over the name “Kylie.” Needless to say, Australian singer Kylie Minogue (47) was not happy about it.
Hello….. My name is KYLIE #lightyears
— kylie minogue (@kylieminogue) February 28, 2016
Naturally, Minogue is concerned that Jenner trademarking the “Kylie” would hurt her own brand and confuse fans. Minogue already own trademarks on “Lucky – the Kylie Minogue musical,” “Kylie Minogue darling” (a perfume brand), and “Kylie Minogue.” And while it’s typical for celebrities to trademark their full or stage names, the right to own a single name, especially a common one, becomes much more legally fuzzy.
According to babynameshub.com, at least 88,354 girls in the United States alone have been named Kylie since 1880.
While it’s true that for today’s pop culture savvy, many are prone to default to Kylie Jenner when they hear the name “Kylie,” and while influence and recognizability often weighs in heavily in trademark requests, what about the hundreds of thousands of other Kylies in the world? Are they no longer to promote themselves or brand their clothes and accessories with their own name?
Typically, trademarks are granted on names when they have intrinsic or secondary meaning, that is, when people associate the name with a specific person or product, or when the person (often a celebrity) with that name is using it to promote their products or brand. The less commonplace the name, the easier it is to trademark.
So what about the rest of us non-celebrities? Anybody can request trademarks if they don’t already exist, but the strongest case for securing protection on a name or phrase comes down to power and influence. Speaking of which, here are a few of the more bizarre celebrity trademarks that just might surprise you…