Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Marilyn Monroe Fireworks? Maybe, According to a Recent Trademark Application

Is the estate of Marilyn Monroe getting into the fireworks business? It might be, if a recent trademark application is any indication.
On September 14th, The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC filed an application to register MARILYN MONROE as a trademark for "fireworks" in Class 14 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (ed. - are these Marilyn Monroe branded fireworks or fireworks in the shape of Marilyn Monroe?). The estate filed the application on an intent-to-use basis, suggesting it is not currently using the late actresses's name as a trademark in conjunction with fireworks yet, but has a bona fide intention to do so in the near future. TMEP 806.01(b); 15 USC 1051(b).

As I've blogged about before, the estate of Marilyn Monroe regularly files trademark applications for a variety of goods and services. According to the estate's website, consumers can purchase MARILYN MONROE spa services, jewelry, mobile applications, clothing, books, movies, and drinkware. And now, maybe, fireworks?

Two interesting things to note about this application. First, you'll notice the application indicates "The name(s), portrait(s), and/or signature(s) shown in the mark does not identify a particular living individual." That language stems from Section 2(c) of the Trademark Act, which prohibits the registration of any trademark that "[c]onsists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent..." See also TMEP 1206 et seq. In this case, Marilyn Monroe is not living, so the application is making it clear consent is not required.

Second, all the trademark registrations owned by Marilyn Monroe's estate demonstrate how trademark law can be used to leverage control over a celebrity's name, either in conjunction with or as an alternative to state right of publicity laws. Generally, right of publicity laws prevent the use of one's name or likeness for a commercial purpose without that individual's consent.

In the case of Marilyn Monroe, several years ago the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's post-mortem publicity statute did not apply to her because she died in New York (which does not have a law providing for a post-mortem right of publicity). Since it does not apply to Marilyn Monroe, the estate is using trademark law as a means to take control of the actress's name, especially in certain market segments (like spa services, jewelry, and clothing). As a result, if a third party uses MARILYN MONROE or a confusingly similar mark in conjunction with goods or services related to those offered by the estate, the estate may have a claim for trademark infringement. Additionally, if the estate shows the MARILYN MONROE trademark is famous, it may have a claim for trademark dilution, which would allow the estate to broadly enforce its trademark rights against those selling goods and services in almost any industry.

According to my quick search, The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC owns 25 active trademark applications or registrations with the USPTO for MARILYN MONROE or variants. A creative legal approach for an estate that lost the right of publicity battle and needed another mechanism for protecting the actress's name.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Coaxial Cable Designer/Manufacturer Files Application to Register Coaxial Cable Pattern as a Trademark

In a recent application that demonstrates trademarks are more than just words, logos, and slogans, Megaphase, LLC, a designer and manufacturer of coaxial cables and connectors, filed an application to register the coaxial cable pattern seen below as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But will it get a registration on the Principal Register (which affords the most legal benefits)?
The application, filed on September 5th, describes the trademark as "repeating pairs of yellow dashes applied in a spiral pattern along the length of a coaxial cable." The color yellow is claimed as a feature of the mark. The application covers "coaxial cables" in Class 9 and the mark has been in use since May 31, 2015 (according to the application).

Repeating patterns marks can function as trademarks. TMEP 1202.19 ("Repeating-pattern marks are often applied to clothing and fashion accessories, but they also appear on other goods, including furniture, bedding, dinnerware, luggage, paper products, and cleaning implements. In addition, these marks frequently appear on packaging for a variety of goods and have been registered for use in connection with services such as retail stores and travel agencies."). In fact, the USPTO's Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure has an entire section devoted to examples of various repeating pattern marks. TMEP 1202.19(k).

Whether a repeating pattern actually functions as a trademark or is ornamental or decorative depends on the type of pattern, how it is used, industry practice, and several other factors. When determining whether a repeating pattern functions as a trademark or is merely ornamental/decorative matter, the USPTO will consider a variety of factors, including:
  • Whether the pattern is common or widely used (TMEP 1202.19(e)(i)(A));
  • Whether the pattern creates a commercial impression distinct from any wording or other matter that appears on the relevant goods (TMEP 1202.19(e)(i)(B));
  • The nature of the repeating pattern, including whether it contains any arbitrary wording (TMEP 1202.19(e)(i)(C));
  • The industry practice and whether it is common in the industry to use repeated patterns in an ornamental/decorative manner or as trademarks (TMEP 1202.19(e)(i)(D));
  • Whether consumers are used to seeing repeating patterns on the type of product, such that they either view them as ornamental/decorative features or as trademarks (for example, repeating patterns are commonly used on items like clothing, furniture, and pillows, so it would be difficult to argue a pattern is functioning as a trademark when used on those goods) (TMEP 1202.19(e)(i)(E)).
If a repeating pattern mark is inherently distinctive, the USPTO will register it on the Principal Register. However, if the repeating pattern is more common, basic, and/or decorative, the USPTO will refuse to register it as a trademark. If the pattern is capable of functioning as a trademark after obtaining acquired distinctiveness in the marketplace, the USPTO may register it on the Supplemental Register.

According to my quick search, MegaPhase does not own any U.S. trademark registrations for a coaxial cable pattern. However, it did obtain a registration back in 2010 for "the color red-orange, Pantone warm red C, as applied to the entirety of the surface and length of a cable." However, that registration is on the Supplemental Register because color marks can never be inherently distinctive (see TMEP 1202.05(a)) and MegaPhase did not attempt to argue that its use of this color on coaxial cables had acquired distinctiveness such that registration on the Principal Register was proper.