Trademarkology: The Law of the Brand

Trademarkology: The Law of the Brand

Brexit, Brouhaha, and… Beer?

Posted in Trademarks






You are probably sick of hearing the word BREXIT by now.  If you don’t yet know what it is, Brexit refers to Britain’s recent vote to exit the European Union.  Since numerous international agreements must now be reversed, there is a lot of uncertainty about how the United Kingdom will unravel its membership in the EU.

Brexit has great significance to trademark owners who have registered their trademarks in the European Union.  One of the benefits of the European Union was the ability to register intellectual property, including trademarks, in the entire EU through a single registration filing that avoided having to separately register a mark in each individual country.  The Brexit vote leaves many open questions as to whether trademarks that are registered in the EU will continue to be treated as registered in the UK or whether that protection will be lost in the United Kingdom.  The international treaty that establishes the EU trademark registration system contains no provisions that address what should happen if a country were to leave the EU.

It will probably take several years for these questions to be answered.  New legislation would be required by the UK Parliament and perhaps the EU Parliament as well to ensure that EU trademark registrations continue to be protected in the UK after Brexit takes effect.  Given the possibility that trademark owners will lose registration rights, many commentators believe that legislation will be enacted to continue protecting EU trademark registrations in the UK after Brexit, but there are differing theories as to the mechanics and whether additional conversion or re-application filings would be required in the UK.  For now, trademark owners have to decide whether to wait and see or whether to take a more proactive (and more expensive) approach by filing separate trademark registrations in the UK as a back-up plan.  Unlike the United States, the UK (and most other countries) grants trademark protection to the first person to register a mark regardless of who used the mark first.  Timing is important.

With the impact if Brexit looming large, several trademark applications have been filed to seek registration of the mark BREXIT for various goods and services.  It seems this is the new “it” word, but we will see how long that lasts before the novelty wears off.  For now, Bost Obeer Corporation, which owns the SAMUEL ADAMS® beer brand, has applied to register BREXIT for hard cider.  Another application has been filed to use BREXIT for vitamins and supplements.  And, yet a third application has, of course, been filed to put BREXIT on t-shirts.  I was struck by the application for vitamins and supplements because the description speaks to “detoxification” which made me think of laxatives. I must say, it would be pretty clever to name a laxative BREXIT.

If you want a Brit’s view of Brexit, check out John Oliver’s commentary.

Pat Summitt: A Brand That Lives On

Posted in Brands, Trademarks


I had nearly completed a blog post that I intended to publish today—a post actually about trademarks, branding, and intellectual property—but, when the news of Pat Summitt’s death broke early this morning, I decided to put it aside and take some time to honor her memory.


Pat Summitt and son Tyler after the 1997 NCAA Women’s Championship Game


Like many athletic girls who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, Pat Summitt was my hero.  She was legendary in my family.  We would gather around the television to watch the Lady Vols school their opponents, led by players like Michelle Marciniak and Nikki McCray, and I remember going out to the old hoop in my driveway during halftime so that I could work on my own game.  And, frequently, my mother would join me for some one-on-one.  You see, Pat Summitt did not just motivate those with whom she interacted, and she did not just motivate aspiring young ball players.  Rather, her influence was virtually omnipresent, extending across the globe and reaching both the young and the young at heart.   Pat Summitt made you want to be better, stronger, more adept.  And not just in basketball, but in any area where one hopes to excel… including, say, parenthood.  In hindsight, I can see that my mom did not shoot hoops with me during halftime of those televised Lady Vols games to become a better player but instead to become a better mother.  Pat Summitt’s influence spanned generations and was felt far beyond the confines of the basketball court.

Coach Summitt demanded that her players give a full effort, both on and off the court.  It did not matter if they were playing a top ranked team in the NCAA Tournament or a tiny school in an exhibition game; her intensity level was the same, and she expected her players to match that intensity.  For example, consider the 1997-1998 team that many (myself included) believe to be the greatest team in the history of women’s college basketball.  It was the year of the “Meeks,”  featuring Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings, and Semeka Randall, along with notable players such as Kellie Jollie and “Ace” Clement.  That team went 39-0, beating all but two of their opponents by double digits.  Even though most did not even come close to upsetting the Lady Vols, Coach Summitt would not hesitate to scold a player who was giving anything less than a full effort.  Her icy glare would send a chill down my spine from hundreds of miles away.  More importantly to Pat Summitt, however, was that her players give a full effort in the classroom.  Every single player who stayed on her team for 4 years left Knoxville with a degree.  She commanded greatness.

Here at Trademarkology, we talk a lot about brands—how to protect them, how to add value to them, etc. As I sit here today, reflecting on Pat Summitt and her many accomplishments and the countless lives she influenced, I cannot think of a more powerful brand than hers.  I would argue that there is not a single name in sports that is as ubiquitous.  Sure, NBA fans love LeBron, hockey fans idolize Gretzky, and the tennis world may agree that Federer is the best to wield a racket.  But Pat Summitt transcended the sport of women’s basketball.  In fact, she transcended sports altogether.

Though she departed the world early this morning, Pat Summitt’s legacy will continue to live on.  Shortly after she went public with her diagnosis, she filed an application for the mark THE PAT SUMMITT FOUNDATION for charitable services, and the mark registered in 2014.


The Pat Summitt Foundation was launched to support medical research and raise awareness regarding Alzheimer’s disease, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure.  And, if the Foundation enjoys even a fraction of the success enjoyed by its namesake, who had a staggering 1098 wins in 1306 games, it will indeed reach its goal.

Pat Summitt changed the lives of those with whom she interacted, she influenced countless individuals across the globe, and you better believe that Pat Summitt’s brand, and her legacy, will continue to live on long past today.

For more on Pat Summitt’s achievements, and her fight with Alzheimer’s, check out this video that played at the 2012 ESPYs when she was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.


Curry Scores on Trademark Applications

Posted in Uncategorized

Perhaps Steph Curry should have been paying more attention to basketball rather than capitalizing on his trademark during the NBA finals. While Curry won’t get a payout from winning an NBA title, it looks like he has other business plans up his sleeve. On June 16, the day that the Warriors lost Game 6 to the Cavs (and the same game where Curry was ejected for throwing his mouthguard), Curry filed trademark applications for STEPH CURRY, STEPHEN CURRY, CHEF CURRY and CURRY.


The applications were all filed on an intent to use basis for a variety of goods including everything from knee pads to bath sandals to conducting fitness classes. Not surprisingly, “mouth guards for sports” were included in all four filings. I have no doubt that my son will be first in line for a Steph Curry branded mouth guard, if and when it hits the market.




A party with a bona fide intent to use a mark iqn commerce in connection with specific goods or services may file an application on the basis of intent to use. However, before the mark can be registered, the applicant must actually use the mark in commerce in connection with all the goods and services listed in the application. A declaration attesting to this use must be filed, as well as specimens showing use of the mark in connection with each class of goods and services. Any good or service not actually used by the applicant must be deleted from the application before the application proceeds to registration.

To be fair, Curry likely had very little involvement in timing of the actual filing of the trademark applications. Though Curry is listed as the applicant, Octagon, his agency, is also listed on the application. It comes as somewhat of a surprise that Curry is seeking registration of his own marks. Under Armour is the owner of a number of Curry-related registration and continues to seek registration of other marks related to Curry. However, it did abandon efforts to register the marks THE LEAGUE’S MOST UNGUARDABLE PLAYER, THE GAME’S NEW CREATIVE GENIUS, and FALL BACK. Perhaps it abandoned THE LEAGUE’S MOST UNGAUARDABLE PLAYER since Curry proved to be quite guardable during the NBA Finals.

More likely, Curry realized the value of owning his own intellectual property and licensing it rather than allowing third parties such as Under Armour to own his marks. This is becoming a trend among professional athletes, including one of Curry’s own teammates, Draymond Green. Draymond Green has filed an application to register of MONEY GREEN for sweaters, sweatshirts, and t-shirts.


For more on Steph Curry’s mouth guard chewing habit, click here:


Posted in Uncategorized

It is summer festival season in Middle Tennessee. Last week, we experienced the CMA Music Festival, followed by Bonnaroo. This coming weekend, the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival takes place in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The festival begins with a run in the early morning (to try and avoid the blistering heat). If you’re lucky, it ends with a drink of the celebrated beverage.

But what if you want to save your calories for the Moon Pies?

Then you might try a diet drink originally distributed by RC in the late 1950s: DIET RITE. Since approximately 2005,  DIET RITE PURE ZERO has been available in a number of flavors:


Since June, 2008, applications to register DIET RITE PURE ZERO and PURE ZERO have been suspended pending disposition of a consolidated opposition proceeding before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”). Royal Crown Company, Inc. and Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. (collectively, “RC”) opposed registration of 17 applications for marks that include the term “zero” for use with soft drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks filed by The Coca-Cola Company (“TCCC”), alleging that the term “zero” is generic or descriptive and thus requires a disclaimer. TCCC opposed the two applications filed by RC on the ground of likelihood of confusion.

An example of one of TCCC’s products is shown to the right:  sprite zero


Last month, the TTAB rendered its decision, finding the term “zero” not generic, but inherently descriptive. However, it also found that TCCC had satisfactorily shown acquired distinctiveness in the term “zero” when used as part of a mark for soft drinks and sports drinks. But not for energy drinks. So the TTAB gave TCCC two months to disclaim “zero” in its subject applications insofar as they pertain to energy drinks. Further, the TTAB dismissed TCCC’s likelihood of confusion claims against RC’s applications because TCCC failed to establish priority in its asserted family of ZERO marks. The appeal period is pending.

If you want to celebrate RC’s partial victory at the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival this weekend, in
100 degree weather, you can run a

10K race, and drink a can of

0 calorie DIET RITE PURE ZERO soft drink

 side soda

“Professionally Known As” – Branding your Professional Name

Posted in Brands, Trademarks, Uncategorized

Here in Nashville, we are in the midst of the Country Music Association’s CMA Music Festival, where fans flock into our city to meet and hear their favorite artists.  Our city is inundated with music branding.  While some artists use their actual names, in the world of arts and entertainment, it is very common for an artist to adopt a stage name or to otherwise be known professionally as something other than his or her given name. The journey toward becoming “Professionally Known As”, already a complex path, is made even more complicated by the realities of today’s digital world. As I’ve traveled this road with several of my musical artists lately, I’ve seen several similarities in the process across the board.

In the music industry, the first consideration is music, but the very next consideration is image and branding. When considering a name, everyone on the artist’s team works together to identify a name that is strong for purposes of marketing the artist. We ask ourselves a list of questions:

  • Does the name create the image and branding that we want for this artist?
  • Is the name consistent with the artist’s sound?
  • Is it a name that can stand the test of time so that the artist can tour with that mark in his or her more senior years?
  • Will people want to wear that name on their t-shirt?
  • Can a graphic designer create a logo with the name that will grab fans’ attention and reflect who the artist is?
  • Could consumers be confused by the spelling of the name?
  • Will we lose fans/followers by making a name change?
  • When is the best time to make the name change?
  • Will the name be easily searchable online?
  • Will corporate sponsors want to co-brand with that name?
  • Will the name help create ancillary marketing opportunities outside the music industry?
  • If the artist plans to cross genres, will the name allow for that transition?


The most famous artist rebranding was Prince Roger Nelson.  Prince went by more than a dozen names over the course of his career, including simply “The Artist” and his infamous Love Symbol.  For more on Prince’s trademark journey, check out our prior blog post.  Prince—always unique and unmatchable—seemed to be rebranding because he felt his moniker had too much recognition (or the wrong kind of power) and wanted his music to be elevated above his name.  For most others, finding a name that will allow you to stand out in a crowd and gain more recognition drives branding.

Even if we can answer all of our branding questions to our satisfaction, we may still face several hurdles. For example, the name is only as strong as its marketability in social media. If the artist cannot acquire the domain name and all social media handles, then marketing can be very difficult. I always recommend that an artist acquire domains and handles the first time they search for them, and also acquire all misspellings and derivatives so that they can redirect fans to easily find the artist.  This is equally applicable to anyone choosing a new trademark.

Of course, even if all of the above considerations are satisfied, the most significant legal hurdle can be trademark registration. I advise my clients to contact me as soon as they think they have found a name that they like so that we can do a trademark clearance search for the key services and products you will want to sell.  This search is a valuable tool to identify major barriers early in the process and save the artist from having to later rebrand and lose momentum or fans. When we hit a barrier, it’s back to the drawing board to find a new name, which is why it is better to do the search early in the process. As an added layer of complication, even if the trademark appears to be available in the United States, it may not be available internationally. Since most artists plan international careers (and since all businesses are becoming increasingly global), it is therefore critical to consider availability of the trademark in key countries as well – touring countries as well as any other countries where you anticipate you will have fans/customers, distributors, or manufacturers for your merchandise.

The journey to becoming “Professionally Known As” is not an easy one, but if it is handled correctly, it can create a powerful and valuable brand for a successful artist.


By:  Guest Blogger and Entertainment Lawyer Extraordinaire Stephanie Taylor




Posted in Trademarks

As I reflected on Memorial Day, many images came to mind of family and friends who courageously gave their own lives to help protect ours.  They all shared a tremendous sense of pride for their military unit – an extension of their own identity giving rise to a lifetime bond with fellow soldiers.  Military trademarks are an extension of this pride, whether worn as a tattoo, a bumper sticker, or a Facebook profile picture.   We salute all of these brave men and women whom we are fortunate to call our protectors.

Here are a few of the military trademarks that signify courage and honor.  Just like commercial trademarks, these military trademarks each have their own brand, and several are federally registered.

Marine Corps SEMPER FIDELIS or

SEMPER FI  (Always Faithful)












(Always Ready)

National Guard ALWAYS READY.  ALWAYS THERE. national


My family and I visited the Kennedy Space Center over the holiday and were fortunate enough to be there on the day a SpaceX rocket launched.  The NASA emblem was emblazoned everywhere.  While NASA is not military, many astronauts were military first and many bravely gave their lives for the betterment of humanity.

We salute you all.



Monday Night Football

Posted in Brands, Trademarks

Last Monday, Pro-Football, Inc. petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case (Pro- Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse) before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on it, but only if the Supreme Court grants certiorari in Lee v. Tam. Asking the Supreme Court to take a case before the Circuit Court of Appeals renders its decision is really rare. Almost as rare as my having anything to say about sports. Which should soon be obvious, if you keep reading.

As a reminder, here’s the line-up: Pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is Pro-Football’s appeal from a district court decision affirming the TTAB’s decision to cancel Pro-Football’s registrations for various marks that include the term “Redskins” on the ground that such term violates the anti-disparagement clause (Section 2(a)) of the Lanham Act. Pro-Football’s case has been fully briefed and the parties had been waiting for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to schedule oral argument.

Ms. Blackhorse et al believe this would be preferable to the current team name.

Ms. Blackhorse et al believe this would be preferable to the current team name.

Meanwhile, last week in Lee v. Tam the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office asked the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to review the Federal Circuit’s en banc decision invalidating the anti-disparagement clause of the Lanham Act on constitutional grounds, vacating the TTAB’s affirmance of the examining attorney’s refusal to register the mark “The Slants” (because it violated Section 2(a)), and remanding the case to the TTAB. Pro-Football filed its petition for certiorari less than a week after the director of the PTO filed the petition in Lee v. Tam.

It is rare for a party to leapfrog a court to seek review at the highest level, but occasionally one goes directly from high school to the big leagues. Pro-Football explains why its case should be heard as a companion to Tam, and in doing so it scores some good points. But it does such a good job, the Court may be disinclined to deny certiorari to Tam.

Michelle Lee: PTO Director

Michelle Lee: PTO Director

Allowing Pro Football’s case to be heard as a companion to Lee v Tam would provide the Court with an expanded view of how and when Section 2(a) may be applied. While Tam encountered it during the application process, Pro- Football has encountered it during cancellation proceedings commenced years following registration. Moreover, Pro Football makes some arguments in support of its case that Tam did not (such as vagueness and due process arguments) and Pro-Football has preserved certain positions that Tam conceded (such as the nature of the speech at issue). Additionally, Pro-Football proposes a construction of Section 2(a) that would allow the Court to avoid a constitutional issue.

But in some respects, it seems Pro-Football simply cannot stand to be sidelined, watching someone else when it has spent so many years crafting its arguments and preparing for the highest court in the land.

I would not be surprised if the Court chose to hear Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse as a companion case to Lee v Tam. But it remains to be seen whether Pro-Football’s Hail Mary petition will mark the end the losing streak the team experienced before the lower courts in its case.

America’s Prince

Posted in Brands, Copyright, Trademarks


The legal legacy of The Artist Formerly Known as  Prince_logo.svg is impressive; we’ll miss his fabled stories and exploits.  Years ago, we posted about the background dispute behind Prince’s fight with his label that resulted in his name change from Prince Rogers Nelson.

But these quirky stories aren’t what I find to be so impressive.  Instead it is the lack of information available about him on the Internet, especially for someone that famous who made his living from copyrighted works.  Nowadays Google is pretty on point for most topics; but not Prince.  My searches for legal disputes involving Prince review the well-known dancing baby “Let’s Go Crazy” lawsuit and the Facebook fan suit.  In fact most of the search results are actually around Richard Prince  (intriguing, but basically antithetical to Prince).

When I started researching this topic, I expected there to be more?  Then again, it turns out that it is very difficult to find Prince’s music on current social media sites.  Is that the genius of Prince?

We know he didn’t allow reporters to video or record him.   He was also quoted as saying “if you don’t own your Masters, your Masters own you.” It would seem that Prince did a much better job controlling both information about himself and music than I certainly ever imagined.  It also means it can be done.  Few people had as much content as Prince.  It would also appear that few people as much control over their messaging as Prince did.  Certainly England’s princes do not; Prince Harry alone may be responsible for pushing Prince’s bad press to the bottom of Google’s searches.

Another interesting side effect of Prince’s nearly ten years as Prince_logo.svg is that ten years of his career is basically invisible to Internet searches (other than as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince). He also gained additional advantages over his symbol as a trademark: not only is an unusual symbol one of the strongest types of trademarks, but also it is very difficult for people to infringe or dilute.  There simply is no good way to use Prince_logo.svg in a sentence.  He also registered the symbol as a trademark to provide himself more control over it.  An added benefit is that the symbol was also protected by copyright as an artistic expression.

I’m not suggesting that you change your name to a symbol or that you adopt Prince’s level of control over his brand.  However, there are certainly some lessons we could all learn from his brand and content control.

Prince, we’ll miss your quirky ways and your unique music.



“Stairway to Copyright Infringement”- Step Two in Spirit’s uphill climb to prove Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ infringes its copyright

Posted in Uncategorized

Trademarkology wants to give a shoutout to our sister blog OP-IP and its recent post on copyright infringement. OP-IP can be found here: We suggest you subscribe. In the meantime, check out Stephen Weyer’s most recent post:

Followers of this blog and classic rock fans everywhere with a keen interest in the nuances of copyright infringement will recall that Led Zeppelin is being sued by the band Spirit for copyright infringement based on Zeppelin’s immortal song which Spirit alleges lifted portions from its guitar instrumental, Taurus.  The judge in the infringement suit has just now cleared the way for the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ copyright case to proceed to trial next week (reported on WTOP.COM).

This morning, I again listened to both the introduction of Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Spirit’s Tarsus instrumental (links to both at the bottom of this post).  While there are similarities, there are differences as well.  As one commentary to my original post put it, the Spirit instrumental is a standard chord progression whereas the introduction to Stairway to Heaven is much more than that.

The group, Axis of Awesome, very creatively demonstrated that a series of four chords makes up hundreds of popular songs, tens of which are featured in their song “Four Chords” (link below).  Yet most would agree that each of the songs featured are themselves unique creative works.

Turning to substance of the debate, does “Stairway to Heaven” infringe Spirit’s Taurus guitar instrumental?  In order to infringe an original work’s copyright, the alleged infringing work must be deemed “substantially similar” to the original work and the alleged infringer has to have had “access” to the original work.  In this case, “access” would not appear to be an issue as Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in 1968 and 1969.

Below are links to YouTube clips from Spirit’s “Taurus” and  Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”  See if you think that the opening notes in Stairway to Heaven are substantially similar to the middle guitar instrumental in Spirit’s “Taurus” (e.g. starting around 0:43).  Since most are familiar with the iconic guitar progression in “Stairway to Heaven,” I present Taurus first.  Please let OP-IP know what you think.