Lorraine Kelly hit headlines last week when she emerged successful in a court case brought by HMRC over a £1.2 million tax bill. However, the tax law underlying the decision has been overshadowed by Judge Dean’s assessment of the Lorraine presenter as a “theatrical artist” who “presents herself as a brand”.
These comments have sparked an outpouring in the press and online about the public personas crafted by celebrities, which in turn presents a prime opportunity to discuss the place of trade marks in celebrity culture. If a celebrity is presenting themselves as a brand, as this decision claims that Lorraine Kelly is, is it worthwhile them seeking trade mark protection for their name, this being their personal brand, in the way that commercial businesses and individuals seek protection for their names and logos?
Just as it can be extremely important to a business, trade mark protection can be a valuable asset for celebrities, especially in the age of social media and influencers. Celebrities work to create and develop a public persona and brand and often, this carefully nurtured public personality and the image they project is the reason that they are chosen for certain engagements. A celebrity having trade mark protection for their name can allow them to further construct a brand around themselves and also control how third parties use their name in relation to certain goods and services.
The concept of celebrities trade marking their names or nicknames is not new. There have been numerous reports in recent years of the latest celebrity attempting to register their own name as a trade mark or the names of their famous-by-association offspring. Examples of celebrity names on the UK and EU registers include the Beckhams, Sean Connery, Cara Delevigne, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Wayne Rooney and Nigella Lawson, to name a few.
Celebrities will continue to register their names as trade marks around the world, and whilst registering a personal name as a trade mark is possible, the name must still be able to function as a trade mark in order to gain registration. A trade mark for a celebrity name must be able to indicate that goods and services which are branded with that name originate from, or are authorised by, that celebrity.
It can be even more challenging to get trade mark protection for the name of someone who is already famous, especially in relation to goods, more so than services. This is because for certain goods, particularly merchandise, a celebrity’s name can be seen as descriptive in relation to those goods and not able to fulfil the function of a trade mark. For example, a celebrity will not be able to protect their name in relation to pictures, photographs and posters, as there is a possibility that they may be the subject matter of the pictures, photographs or posters, which would render the trade mark ‘descriptive’.
That being said, if you are a celebrity presenting yourself as a brand to the public and potential employers, as Lorraine Kelly allegedly does, and you are looking to commercially exploit and protect this personal brand, trade mark protection can be a smart step forward.
Reddie & Grose has experience in this field, representing some of UK’s well-known celebrities in their trade mark endeavours.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.