It was not all that long ago that Beyoncé and Jay-Z made headlines when they looked to the law to protect their children’s names. You may recall that the music industry power couple sought to register their eldest daughter Blue Ivy Carter’s name as a trademark in the U.S. (and then internationally) in early 2012. Several years later, they tried again: this time applying to register “Blue Ivy Carter” for use on everything from fragrances, skincare products, clothing and handbags to entertainment services, CDs and DVDs, and online retail services, plus the names of their newborn twins Sir Carter and Rumi Carter, as well.
The outcome in all of those instances has been largely the same. Jay-Z and Beyoncé have walked away empty handed (for now, at least). Since the couple are hardly the first and certainly will not be the last famous figures to seek such trademark registrations from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) for their spawn, the question at issue is this: why exactly are celebs looking to trademark protection for the names of their kids in the first place and why are they rather routinely failing to get it?
There are two key reasons why these types of applications for registration are filed: The first — if it applies — is pretty straightforward. The famous parents are seeking to register the names of their children because they are using the names on products and services — in much the same way as designers like Miuccia Prada and Ralph Lauren, for example, use their names to identify the source of their products — and want legal protection to ensure they are the only ones doing so. After all, it is hardly a stretch to say that famous parents can easily drum up demand for and derive income from the name — or better yet, the budding brand — of their famous-by-association offspring.
The second reason — the more common and the more legally complicated one — centers on the famous parents’ desire to ensure that third parties do not attempt to register the names themselves and commercialize them for their own benefit without authorization. This is the precise reason why Jay-Z says he and Beyoncé attempted to register the Blue Ivy Carter name. The music mogul told Vanity Fair in 2013, “People wanted to make products based on our child’s name and you don’t want anybody trying to benefit off your baby’s name.”
Not only does this approach tend to give rise to many a trademark application, it tends to give rise to many failed applications because trademark law in the U.S. has a strict “use” requirement, whether you are famous or not. In accordance with U.S. law, before a party may be granted a trademark registration, they must be able to show the USPTO that they are actually using the trademark.
This is where Jay and Bey (and other celebs) have fallen short. They have not been able to point to concrete examples that prove that they are using their kids’ names in a commercial capacity on any of the classes of goods and services for which they are seeking registration.
The same may soon apply to the Kardashians, who recently looked to the USPTO to register the names of their children, North West, Saint West, True Thompson, Stormi Webster, and Chicago West. The USPTO will almost certainly reject the famous family’s applications (or put them on hold for a set period of time) unless the applications filed are for use of the marks (the kids’ names) for entertainment services, i.e., tied to their appearances on the family reality show.
But that is only part of what is going on here, as the applications go further than claiming rights in the kids’ names in conjunction with the wildly popular television show. For Chicago West, for example, mom Kim Kardashian’s corporate entity Kimsaprincess Inc. did, in fact, file to register the name for use in “entertainment in the nature of providing information by means of a global computer network in the fields of entertainment and pop culture,” and chances are, this will be an easy use to establish and gain a registration for.
On the other hand, registration for the “Chicago West” mark for “advertising services,” toys, clothing, and skincare, these classes of goods/services will require proof of use, which does not appear to exist yet.
With this in mind, the celebrity practice of running to the USPTO to register their kids’ names is not as straightforward as it may seem. For celebs that will not be able to show that their kids’ names are actually being used in commerce, such filings might be little more than a fruitless effort and a legal bill.
*This article was initially published in July 2017 and has since been updated with two paragraphs about the Kardashian trademark filings.