Sarah Palin vs. USPTO

Last Friday the “mainstream media”, blogs and intellectual property attorneys were all a-twitter over Sarah Palin’s latest move: applying for trademark registrations for the names “Sarah Palin” and “Bristol Palin.”  No, really.

The CNN article may be found HERE:

Upon review of the information on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website, it appears that our favorite Governor-turned-reality-TV-star applied for registrations under International Classes 035 and 041, for “information about political elections; Providing a website featuring information about political issues” and “Educational and entertainment services, namely, providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values,” respectively.  (Bristol’s trademark application only covers motivational speaking services in the field of life choices.)

From a practical standpoint, this means that, if the application is approved and the trademark registered, the name “Sarah Palin” would become even more of a brand, and Sarah Palin would have the exclusive right to use the name “Sarah Palin” in connection with the above activities and take legal action against anyone else doing so without permission.  No one else could provide motivational speaking services under the name Sarah Palin, or any other name that may cause a “likelihood of confusion.”

Such a registration seems completely unnecessary for the following reasons:

1. Palin would probably never be able to prove “likelihood of confusion”, the standard for trademark infringement;

2. Celebrities already enjoy a “right of publicity” a right under some states’ laws which gives public figures the exclusive right to exploit their names, likeness and image for commercial purposes; and

3.  FAIR USE AND PARODY.  I need not tediously describe the legal requirements for fair use and parody to confidently say that most use of the Sarah Palin trademark would fall under this category.  To be perfectly clear, Tina Fey and SNL have nothing to worry about.

BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE!

The Palins’ trademark applications were REJECTED…for failing to sign their applications.  (Click here for more details.)  As an intellectual property attorney who has filed numerous trademark applications, I can tell you that the USPTO makes it extraordinarily difficult to submit a trademark application with no signature, if not impossible.

But, even with an initially failed trademark application, the Palins have clearly succeeded. After all, we are all still talking about them, and the Palin brand lives on.

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