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Hollywood and the United States Patent and Trademark Office shouldn’t be soulmates. One dances to the unpredictable beat of the rich and famous, the other follows the slow, steady hum of bureaucracy. One is purportedly glitzy, glamorous, and the thing of fantasies; the other is a sobering realm where paperwork is processed and filed, and intellectual property regulated.
Yet, a romance has been burgeoning between the two for decades now. The matchmakers? Celebrities themselves. Ralph Lauren registered a trademark for his name in the 1970s; Madonna did the same in the 1980s. Since then, famous people have been known to register not only their own name, but also their children’s, catchphrases they have made popular, and other words and phrases related to their activities.
A recent example cropped up when Archewell Audio LLC, one of the structures used by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (which has partnered with Spotify to produce podcasts) recently filed to register a trademark for Archetypes, the name of Meghan’s upcoming program on the streaming platform. Kate Cheney, a director of trademarks at the law firm Clarke Willmott, told Newsweek the application for a registration “makes very good commercial sense” and should be standard practice.
How does it work?
Archewell Audio LLC filed the application for a trademark registration on 26 March 2022. It has been accepted and will be assigned to an examiner. The attorney of record on the application is Marjorie Witter Norman, who has handled previous trademark registrations for The Tig, Meghan’s lifestyle website which she maintained prior to her engagement and wedding to Harry.
Filing for a trademark registration doesn’t mean the person making the filing is claiming complete and absolute ownership of the word or phrase in question. Rather, it creates a level of protection within the context of specific activities. This, in turn, can prove useful in the event of litigation.
“A common misconception is that having a trademark means you legally own a particular word or phrase and can prevent others from using it,” the US Patent and Trademark Office explains on its own website. “However, you don’t have rights to the word or phrase in general, only to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services.”
The application to register a trademark for Archetypes, for example, includes a long list of specifications stating it would apply to, for example, “downloadable audio recordings and podcasts, all in the fields of cultural treatment of women and stereotypes facing women”, among other content categories.
Filing an application to register a trademark doesn’t mean it will necessarily go through, nor that it will last forever. A 2008 request by stylist Rachel Zoe to register a trademark for her catchphrase “I die” is currently listed as having been abandoned in 2013. A decade ago, New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow filed to register a trademark for “Tebowing”, a word used to refer to the way Tebow would kneel on one knee to pray on the field during games. The request is listed as having been filed in 2011 and canceled in 2019.
But of course, plenty of applicants are successful and have kept their trademark registrations to this day. In 2004, Paris Hilton filed to register a trademark for her catchphrase “That’s hot” in the context of “multimedia entertainment services in the nature of recording, production, and post production services in the fields of music, video, film”. The registration went through in 2007 and remains active.
Similarly, in 2014, Taylor Swift moved to register a trademark for “This sick beat” (an excerpt from the lyrics of her song “Shake It Off”, released that same year). The registration went through in 2017. The same timeline applies to an application to register a trademark for another phrase, “Nice to meet you. Where you been?”, this time excerpted from her song “Blank Space”.
In 2012, Donald Trump had decided not to seek the Republican nomination in the presidential election. But that same year, he filed to register a trademark for “Make America Great Again”, which became his campaign slogan in 2016. The filing date listed is 19 November 2012, just a few days after the election in which Barack Obama was elected to a second term in the White House.
Some celebrities have sought to afford their children a level of protection by registering trademarks for their names. For example, applications exist to register trademarks for all three of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s children, Blue Ivy Carter, Rumi Carter, and Sir Carter.
The same goes for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s children North West, Saint West, Chicago West, and Psalm West.
Back in 2013, Jay-Z told Vanity Fair he and Beyoncé decided to register trademarks for Blue Ivy’s name so that others wouldn’t try to commercially profit from it.
“People wanted to make products based on our child’s name,” he told the magazine, “and you don’t want anybody trying to benefit off your baby’s name. It wasn’t for us to do anything; as you see, we haven’t done anything.”