MJLST Staffer, Tiffany Saez
In January 2016, Beyoncé’s trademark holding company, BGK Trademark Holdings, filed an application to register the name of the singer’s first child, “BLUE IVY CARTER,” in 14 different trademark classes, covering everything from fragrances to postcards to online video games. In May 2017, however, a Boston-based event planning firm, also named Blue Ivy, filed a notice of opposition with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) to challenge BGK’s trademark application.
Blue Ivy alleges, among other things that, BGK Trademark Holdings has no bonafide intent to use the BLUE IVY CARTER mark in commerce and that BGK is attempting to commit fraud on the USPTO by registering a trademark which it doesn’t intend on ever using.
Although Blue Ivy’s founder, Veronica Morales, already owns U.S. Trademark Registration No. 4224833, covering the standard character mark BLUE IVY for event planning and management services, Morales’ rights to Blue Ivy does not necessarily prevent Beyoncé from securing trademark rights in or a federal registration for BLUE IVY CARTER for goods or services that are not related to those covered by Morales’ mark. Trademark rights are jurisdictional. That is, the owner of a trademark owns it in the geographic region in which it is in use. Trademarks also do not apply to all goods and services worldwide, and instead apply only to the specific goods or services on which it is being used in commerce. Therefore, Morales does not have rights to the BLUE IVY mark for all goods and services, just event planning services.
The Blue Ivy trademark saga, however, does not mark the first time that a celebrity has tried to trademark a name or phrase.
In the United States, one’s name and likeness is generally protected through doctrines that rise out of common law or statute, such as the right of publicity or privacy. However, there are cases in which celebrities or other public figures might seek to protect their names under trademark in order to protect the financial integrity and use of their personal name in commercial activities. The USPTO’s website also notes that, one who attempts to register a trademark that includes one’s name, portrait, or signature (that could reasonably be perceived as that of a particular living individual) would need written consent from the identified individual in order to register the mark.
There are several types of trademarks (e.g., slogans, words, logos, phrases), but the essential function of a trademark is to exclusively identify the commercial origin of goods and services. The use of personal names can be registered as a trademark if the individual can establish that their name contains “secondary meaning,” also known as “acquired distinctiveness.” Secondary meaning is required when your mark is “descriptive,” but not “inherently distinctive” or “generic.” Secondary meaning is very fact-specific. Whether the mark in question has secondary meaning would therefore hinge on whether it has become closely associated with a particular good or service. Thus, in the Blue Ivy case, one’s personal name can acquire trademark protection if the public at large has identified the name with certain products or services.
Even though proof of secondary meaning is not always required, one’s own celebrity status or public persona is generally not enough to confer trademark protection upon a name. The name itself actually has to be associated with certain goods or services. This requirement may be problematic for those who endorse a particular product or intend on developing their own brand of goods, such as clothing.
It is highly unlikely that the general public has identified and closely associated the name of Beyoncé’s six-year-old daughter with certain goods, such as radio pagers. Yet Beyoncé is seeking trademark to prevent others from exploiting and cashing in on little Blue Ivy’s name.