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Jumping on the brand wagon

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A number of famous scientists throughout the years have been linked with Intellectual Property. Mostly though, this is to do with Patents.

Thomas Edison is credited with the light bulb, Otto Frederick Rohwedder? That’s right, the first whole bread loaf slicing machine (incidentally the toaster was invented before sliced bread. I’ll let you think on that one). Albert Einstein famously worked at the Swiss Patent Office.

In an attempt to imitate Einstein’s success I joined the office back in 2008 as a Patent Examiner after completing my Astrophysics degree at Cardiff Uni. Needless to say, I’m not quite there yet. But this Astrophysics background does link me with two other famous scientists who may be changing the scientist ‘brand’ as we know it.

Trade Marks have been used to protect personal names for generations, and are commonly used in the more conventional businesses, think W H Smith ® and George ® for example. However the rich and famous are using these rights to protect their brands as well. David Beckham owns 5 registered trade marks that incorporate his name and J K Rowling owns 6, some of which being her signature.

Professors Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox have also jumped on the brand wagon. Professor Stephen Hawking owns 2 Registered Trade Marks, with Professor Brian Cox owning 6 (it’s not a competition, Brian).

Why are they doing this and what does it give them?

The why and the what are quite simple. A registered trade mark exists to protect a brand, to prevent confusion between customers about the origin of a product. By registering their names, both Brian and Stephen can use their registered trade marks to strengthen their brands and prevent others from using their names in bad faith.

Are they just using this in the Astrophysics world? No. Both Brian and Stephen have registered their trade marks under a number of goods, Birthday cards, stationery and teaching to name a few.

What are the trials and tricks with personal names as trade marks?

The more common a name, the harder it would be to obtain protection for it. For example, using the name ‘Smith’ alone to represent your doctor surgery may be difficult as there are a number of doctors across the UK with the surname Smith. It’s worth noting that probably the most common name in the UK, John Smith ®, is a registered trade mark for beer. The more unusual the surname, the harder it would be to argue that the name is ‘generally known’. First names may be looked on slightly differently, ‘James’ for clothing may not be considered as common.

It’s not just how common a name is that’s important though. Your trade mark must also avoid describing the goods and/or services that you trade in. For example, in the blacksmithing business, my surname would be far too descriptive, as Smith is a common term used to describe a blacksmith. Alternatively the use of the name ‘Brown’ for condiments or paints may also struggle.

Professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking have not just registered their surnames though. They have registered their names entirely. The use of initials or the inclusion of a first name will generally be more unique and less descriptive and therefore possibly easier to register.

Bad faith

Does this mean you can protect any name wherever it crops up?

I’m afraid not, there is a little thing called bad faith in trade mark law. What this means is that you cannot register a trade mark that you have no intention to use or a mark that deceives the public. Included in this is making an application to register a famous or recently deceased famous individual. When Andy Murray won Wimbledon we had a number of applications for his name in all sorts of industries.

What’s in your name?

Why not have a look, see if you can find some other stars who have registered their names (there are lots of them)? Or you could see what businesses use your name/s in their trade.

It’s not hard to do, just jump on our trade mark database.

[Photo above by The University of Manchester Schools and Colleges on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons]

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