Is Your Name Also a Trademark?

This blog entry was inspired by Sarah Palin and her daughter, Bristol.  No, I am not about to get political, so keep reading.  Instead, the famous Alaskans have given me an opportunity to write about trademark law’s treatment of  personal names.

Sarah and Bristol Palin have applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register their names as trademarks.  Ms. Palin claims she uses SARAH PALIN in connection with providing “[i]nformation about political elections” and “motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values.”  Bristol says she uses BRISTOL PALIN in connection with “motivational speaking services in the field of life choices.”  Here are their applications: Sarah/Bristol.

Will the Palins have a hard time obtaining these registrations — “you betcha”!

A person cannot register her name as a trademark without a showing of “secondary meaning.”  Secondary meaning is a high standard to meet.  In connection with personal names, it is achieved when the public has come to recognize the personal name as a symbol that identifies the service (or good), in contrast to identifying the person.

The mark SARAH PALIN is used to identify a person, not a service.  In other words, the public does not connect the name SARAH PALIN with a particular service, but rather with a particular person, at least not yet.  The same reasoning applies to Bristol, perhaps even more so since she does not have same level of notoriety as her mother.

Secondary meaning tends to grow out of a long association of the name with a particular business.  Secondary meaning requires that, in the public mind, the primary meaning of the name as a word identifying a person has been lost in favor of identifying the business.  Examples of personal names which have acquired secondary meaning – and therefore are protected as trademarks — are RONALD MCDONALD, HOWARD JOHNSON and, to a lesser extent, MARTHA STEWART. Indeed, it takes time before the name and the business become synonymous in the public mind.

So, if you hear a loud “doggone it” coming from Wasilla, that means the Palins just received a final refusal to register their names as trademarks.  It’s on the way.

David Lilenfeld

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New Addition to Lilenfeld PC

We are pleased to announce that Tom Shepherd has joined Lilenfeld PC.  Tom brings a wealth of business litigation experience to the Firm, having been both outside litigation counsel and an in-house attorney.  He joins the Firm as “Of Counsel” and adds firepower to our growing litigation practice.

David M. Lilenfeld

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Copyright Registrations – Do You Need ‘Em?

This is for non-lawyers and lawyers who do not practice in the area of intellectual property.  It is meant to correct a very common and damaging misconception about United States copyright law.  As an intellectual property litigator, I see this error frequently and, for those copyright owners who end-up having to deal with an infringer, it creates a serious problem.

Most of us understand that works gain the protection of U.S. copyright law when they are created and fixed in some tangible format.  This is accurate and important but, at the same time, a little bit misleading.  Creating and fixing your work affords you with rights, but  . . . and here is the key . . . you cannot enforce those rights without a copyright registration (A refusal from the Copyright Office to register will also suffice, although you will have to prove to the court that the Copyright Office’s refusal was improper).

In other words, you cannot bring a lawsuit under the U.S. Copyright Act until your work is registered or registration was refused.  If your work is infringed, you can rush to register it, but having waiting, you will likely have forfeited your right to recover money damages or attorney fees.

So, register your work and do so early.  Think of the registration as your key to the courtroom.

And, while on the topic, let’s quickly address another misconception.  There is no “poor man’s copyright.”  The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself and then relying on the date on the envelope gives no copyright protection.  Save your stamp!

David M. Lilenfeld

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Google AdWord Litigation of Trademark Issues Continues

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution asked me to write about Google’s keyword advertising practices for its paper.

The online advertising trademark tug-of-war continues.  One of Google’s most determined opponents has been Rosetta Stone, maker of second language software.  After losing to the search engine giant at the district court level, Rosetta Stone brought the fight to the Fourth Circuit where its appeal pends.

One barometer of the importance of legal issues raised on appeal is the number of amicus briefs filed.  My guess is that 90% of federal appeals have no amicus briefs.  This case has a backbreaking 36, almost all by trademark owners supporting Rosetta Stone’s position that Google’s ad programs either directly or indirectly infringe their trademarks.

With billions of advertising revenue at stake, Google is leaving no stone unturned. A loss here could cost GOOG billions.

Estoy deseando leer esta opinión!  (That is, “I am looking forward to reading this opinion” in Spanish).

David M. Lilenfeld

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