trademarked name

trademarked nameWhat’s in a name? To quote the bard, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. In Hollywood land, however, a name can mean big bucks. Protecting a celebrity’s brand in this digital age has become increasingly important to those in the public eye. In fact, on January 22 Meryl Streep joined the ranks of top celebrities filing papers to trademark her name. So what’s in a trademarked name? Why are so many celebrities rushing to file applications? Let’s explore the benefits.

What Is A Trademark?

To understand why a celebrity would trademark a name, one must first understand what a trademark is and what it does. Distilled to its simplest form a trademark is a brand name, used to distinguish the services and/or goods of one company or brand from another. It is intended to provide clarity to consumers and protection for brands.

Like other forms of intellectual property, trademarks can be registered federally and defended in court. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, the “federal registration of a trademark with the USPTO has several advantages, including a notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.” Unlike copyright protections and patent protections, trademark protections don’t expire and will stay in effect if the paperwork is properly filed.

The Power Of A Trademarked Name

The “exclusive right to use the mark” is a very powerful reason that many celebrities find a trademark so attractive. With licensing agreements, commercial endorsements and speaking fees; protecting the name behind the celebrity can provide legal recourse should someone offer celebrity autographs with less than pure pedigrees. Celebrities seek out these protections to prevent others from profiting from their name. This includes using the celebrity’s image without their consent or implying an endorsement when none exists.

This would work to dilute the value of a celebrities brand, if it their likeness or name was used on products or services that are inconsistent with their image. Imagine Madonna slinging Mucinex or Martha Stewart selling twinkies. Neither endorsement is bound to resonate with their fans. Fake endorsements and commercials can serve as a deterrent to legitimate opportunities.  As movie stars can earn millions of dollars for such endorsements, the drive to prevent unauthorized use is very compelling.

Protection Beyond The Grave

Given the longevity of trademark protections, a registered trademark can also offer these VIP’s a way of passing along their brand to their heirs. Many famous likenesses have offered a consistent revenue stream for their heirs. According to Forbes Magazine, which maintains a list of the highest earning dead celebrities, these trademarks totalled 262.9 billion dollars in global licensed goods and service sales in 2016. Elvis “earned” $27 million dollars in 2016 alone.

From holograms to t-shirts, the restaurant industry to silicon valley, trademark protections have allowed the estates of Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Garcia and many more to license their likeness decades after their death. Examples of brands that have licensed deceased celebrities for use in advertising include Fiat, Tiffany, Mercedes, McDonald’s, Unilever, Ford, Wells Fargo, etc. The passion for celebrity is obviously big business.

Why Meryl?

A look at Meryl Streep’s recent filing seems to indicate that we won’t be seeing her image to sell cheeseburgers or her hologram to highlight a popular brand anytime soon. This filing appears to be limited to “entertainment services,” movie appearances, speaking engagements and autographs. For an actor who has made her name on stage and screen for the past 40 years, we are just glad that the Meryl Streep that will be advertised on movie trailers and public appearances is almost guaranteed to be the real deal.

Or to quote the actress; “the formula for happiness and success is just being actually yourself, in the most vivid possible way you can.”  Maybe that formula should be amended to include trademark protections, to assure that being “actually yourself” can be defended in court.

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