What’s In The Name Mr. Hawking?
Being a celebrity is really worth of having everything. But does this everything allows you to monopolize your name as a trademark, which will have the effect to secluding others from using a similar one in the territory? The question has popped-up (again) because the eminent British physicist Stephen Hawking has recently filed an application to trademark his name under classes 016 and 041 before the USPTO. If news reports were to be believed, trademarking his name concerns his personal views of safeguarding his notoriety and success against all the illegal and unauthorized good sellers and service providers using his name. Nonetheless, the main motivation behind this major application of trademarking his name are his Philanthropic activities through which he genuinely wants to help masses by setting up a foundation to promote research on the motor neurone disease which was the main cause of his crippled condition.
Technically speaking, names and surnames of individuals are not generally granted trademark protection because their registration might make it difficult for common people to use them to identify themselves in commerce. Trademarking personal names thus requires a mark to be something more than just a ‘Source Identifier’. The Law thus requires such a mark to acquire a secondary meaning in the eyes of law for being granted protection. Secondary meaning is a subjective phenomenon that can be proved by evidence showing extensive usage of the mark in relation to the goods or services.
Celebrities protecting their trademarks is not a new phenomenon. David Beckham, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra and Taylor Swift are some of the famous people who have successfully procured registration for their respective names as trademarks. Though there are very few people who have made it through the tough process. There are many cases like that of Beyonce and Jay Z who were denied registration for their daughter’s name Blue Ivy. It will be thus interesting to see how Hawking’s case goes.
But then the question is, why to register your name as a trademark? A celebrity can always establish a repo in the market because of the huge fan following he enjoys. There are several examples to make this clear but, the epitome of it will be the case of David Bekham. David Bekham is one of Britain’s utmost iconic sports-persons who has successfully related his name with the elite global advertising brand. Being the captain of the English national team (1998-2009), he is very well known among all the citizens of Britain. With a view to sell goods and services along with having the advantage of secondary name, his application to register trademark based on his name was successfully accepted and registered in the IP Office. As a reason for which he now owns his company named as Bekham Brand Limited. Same goes with celebrities like JK Rowling and Elvis Presley.
From a celebrity point of view, it seems wise to make a full-fledged effort to seek such monopoly. Not just to stop others from using his name for commercial purposes, but also to quench customer demand in various goods and services, which such celebrities can create in the longer run, that ultimately benefits the economy as a whole. While it would be pretty immature to comment anything on Hawking’s trademark, grant of Trademark registration over names is not a happy scenario for everyone. You can ask this to the people with surnames like Ford and McDonald who might be scouting for alternatives for their business names.
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