What's in a name?

24 April 2019

The protection of names of famous people as a trademark is an interesting subject in trademark law. What is considered to be genuine use of a name? And who is entitled to file this trademark?

You can make a distinction between them: names of celebrities who have died for a while (for example Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt) and celebrities who are still alive or have recently died. Often the celebrities from the latter group have arranged their trademark rights properly or there is an IP company that manages these rights.

The names of famous people that died long ago are often not subject to heirs or IP companies and you can therefore in principle register them (if the trademark is of course available). However, as these names are well known, sometimes you have to deal with rejection on the basis of distinctive character. Vincent van Gogh as a trademark for a museum could be perceived as a name that describes the museum. Of course, this perception is food for discussion.

With the names of celebrities of group 2, in most cases, the names are already registered as a trademark by the celebrity. But probably, for a limited specification and not all the 45 classes. This does not mean that it is prudent to register the name of this celebrity as your trademark. For example, a Dutch individual recently applied for the NEYMAR trademark in the Benelux. The opposition of Neymar Jr. was only accepted for some products (the others were not considered to be similar). So, the Dutch individual got his trademark for some products but for how long? A cancellation action based on bad faith will probably be filed as soon as the trademark is registered. The risk of adopting these names is therefore very high.

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