I got 99 problems and the Patent and Trademark Office is one: Branding your baby

Tuesday 13th November 2012

Music superstars Beyoncé and Jay-Z have hit the headlines this year for applying to register the name of their firstborn child, Blue Ivy, as a trade mark.  When a Boston wedding planner succeeded recently in registering her business’s name, BLUE IVY, it was widely reported that the famous couple’s application had been abandoned. 

In fact, a search with the United States Patent and Trademark Office reveals that the application is still alive.  USPTO records also show that a clothing boutique in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, had registered its name, BLUE IVY, as a word and design mark last year, before Blue Ivy Carter was even born – it had been trading since 2000.   Will Beyoncé and Jay-Z still be able to turn their daughter’s name into a brand?

For those who may not be familiar with the celebrity couple, Beyoncé is one of the biggest female pop stars of the past two decades.  She started out as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child in the late 90s, Atlanta rappers Outkast used her name as a byword for female adoration back in 2004, and she has made some remarkable music videos (including one with Lady Gaga).  Jay-Z has a similarly long career as a rapper.  One highlight of this was also in 2004, when the music producer Danger Mouse mixed the vocals from Jay-Z’s landmark Black Album (famous for such tracks as “99 Problems”, itself a loan from an earlier track by Ice-T) over the music of the Beatles’ famous White Album to make The Grey Album, one of the most celebrated “mash-up” albums ever. 

Jay-Z and Sir Paul McCartney were quite happy with the project, but EMI, which owned the copyright in the Beatles’ records, was displeased that Danger Mouse had not obtained its permission and prohibited sales of the album.  It became a bootleg classic, and Danger Mouse, until then an underground celebrity, has since become world-famous.

But we are concerned here with trade marks, rather than copyright, and with merchandise rather than music.  Headlines around the world trumpeted that Blue Ivy Events had stymied Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s trade mark bid.  Some celebrated this as being a victory for a small entrepreneur over a billionaire power couple.  In fact, there was no contest.  Blue Ivy Events registered the trade mark BLUE IVY for the categories of event planning and wedding planning.  Beyoncé’s company BGK Trademark Holdings LLC has applied for registration of BLUE IVY CARTER in 14 classes of goods and for entertainment services and may succeed on most if not all of them.

So how did the mass media get this story so wrong?  They overlooked the fact that when you apply to register a trade mark, it is always for specific goods or services and not across the whole spectrum.   You should apply for all the goods and services which you may use for your brand but not for those outside your area of interest. Whether you are just starting out or are already a billion-dollar business, we are always happy to advise you about protecting your brand.

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