Jay-Z and Beyoncé trademarked their daughter’s name. Why?

It’s true: Jay-Z and Beyoncé trademarked their daughter’s name, “Blue Ivy Carter.” You may be asking yourself: can you even do that? Trademark a name? Does that mean you could trademark the word “the” or “and”? Well, trademark law has some interesting leeways and limits.

Before Jay-Z and Beyoncé submitted their application, two other people tried to trademark “Blue Ivy Carter.” However, the US Patent and Trademark Office said no because it is illegal to register a trademark with illegitimate affiliation with a celebrity. What does that mean? You cannot trademark someone else’s name or image without their explicit permission, particularly in the case of celebrities, so the other attempts to trademark “Blue Ivy Carter” were rejected.

Conversely, Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s application was approved; they now officially own the trademark of “Blue Ivy Carter.” Does this mean that you can’t name your baby Blue Ivy? Of course not. You could name your child any trademarked name: McDonald’s, Hilton, Versace. There’s a very pertinent detail to trademarks: when you trademark a word or phrase, it is limited to a certain category of goods or services. In this case, Jay-Z and Beyoncé registered their daughter’s name under the category of child or baby products. Even though you can’t start a clothing line called Versace because that would infringe on the copyright, you could start a restaurant or a line of hotels called Versace. This means even if a word is “trademarked” it is still more or less a normal word.

Back in 2004, the Supreme Court made an interesting interpretation of trademark law. In the case, one company, Lasting Impressions I Inc., sued a rival company for using copyrighted language. In this case, the rival, KP Permanent Make-Up Inc., used just one word – microcolors – that supposedly infringed on the copyright. Lasting Impressions claimed that customers would be confused, and they should maintain their right to that language. KP argued that the term was widely used before Lasting Impressions trademarked the word. The Supreme Court agreed with KP and said that the use of the trademarked word was covered under the doctrine of fair use. What’s fair use? Fair use is a tricky element of trademark law because it includes all the exceptions to the rules. If you want to quote a book, for example, it is covered under fair use, and the author cannot sue you. If you want to make a copy of a book and sell it, it is not covered under fair use. Fair use is one reason why we can discuss “Blue Ivy Carter” and use her name and not fear retribution from her loving parents. (If we said something bad about the baby that would be a libel issue, which is an entirely different discussion.) Trademarks do not interfere with our daily lives, in part, because of fair use.

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that trademarking something doesn’t mean that it completely stops being in the world. The US Patent and Trademark Office itself does not pursue copyright infringement suits. Rather, the owner of a trademark has legal permission to sue someone for copyright infringement.

What do you think of trademarking “Blue Ivy Carter”? Are trademark rules reasonable and relevant?

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