Is the estate of Marilyn Monroe getting into the fireworks business? It might be, if a recent trademark application is any indication.
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.