Did you know that it was possible to trademark a child’s name? Better yet, did you know that people actually did and do trademark their children’s names? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is “any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.” In laymen’s terms, a trademark is a brand name. Some of the more familiar and common trademark names are Coca-Cola and Sony brands. It is possible to trademark a wide variety of things from sounds such as the famous and instantly recognizable “Sweet Georgia Brown” Harlem Globetrotters Theme Song to shapes such as the unique cube shaped design of Apple stores.
Blue Ivy Carter is barely a month old and has already found herself in the realm of the intellectual property world. Perhaps this should not come as a surprise considering that her parents are hip-hop and pop royalties, Jay-Z and Beyonce, respectively. On January 26, the proud new parents filed a trademark application to stop others from using Blue Ivy’s name and possibly to save it for future commercial use. According to family law attorney and author Vikki Ziegler, “[Seeking the trademark] forestalls competitors from using the child’s name and or third parties from attempting to sell the baby’s name back to the couple . . . [Beyonce and Jay-Z] are likely trying to protect what they rightfully own or created, shall we say, by trademarking Blue Ivy’s name.”
Just four days after little Blue Ivy was born, on January 11, fashion designer Joseph Mbeh submitted an application to trademark “Blue Ivy Carter NYC.” A few days later, on January 20, someone else filed an application for “Blue Ivy Carter Glory IV” to use on a line of fragrances. Both applications have been denied. The Trademark Office explained that the name belonged to a “very famous infant,” and that consumers would erroneously believe that Beyonce and Jay-Z either implicitly or explicitly approved products with the name “Blue Ivy.” In trademark law, claims are measured by whether it causes a likelihood of confusion. In order to establish a prima facie case for trademark infringement, the actual owner of the trademark must prove that there is a “likelihood of confusion between his or her trademark and the allegedly infringing mark.” Where the owner of the trademark can show “a comparison of the appearance, pronunciation, meaning, and commercial impression of the respective marks,” he or she may have a viable claim of trademark infringement.
Of course, it should be noted that Beyonce and Jay-Z only just filed the application on January 26, after both of the aforementioned applicants applied. While experts have explained that parents are legally entitled to trademark the names of their minor children, that does not explain how the applications of others who filed before the famous parents were summarily rejected. Considering that patents and trademarks are usually issued on a first come, first served basis and that the process to receive said patents and trademarks is a long 2-3 month process, it does make one wonder if Beyonce and Jay-Z were given special treatment. The Patent Office explained that when it notices a particular trend arise in popular culture – like “The Situation,” “Occupy,” “1%,” or “99%” – these applications are taken out of the pile and funneled to examiners who conduct research and rule upon similar filings.
Blue Ivy’s name has been making appearances on trademark applications since before she was even conceived. In what can only be described as an incredible stroke of luck, a boutique in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin filed for a trademark on “Blue Ivy” on January 19, 2011 and received the trademark on August 23. The great thing about this is that the storeowners now have the right to use the name commercially or to sell the trademark to the highest bidder. Shakespearean character Juliet Capulet from Romeo and Juliet once asked, “What’s in a name?” If your name is Blue Ivy Carter, the answer is a trademark that’s potentially worth a great deal of money.
* Tierryicah D. Mitchell is a third-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Political Science and History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation in 2012, Ms. Mitchell plans to work for the federal government.