Celebrity Trademark Update: Denied, Withdrawn and Cultural Appropriation???

by Mickie Funderburke

Last month, we discussed A-lister brands that were spearheaded by celebrities and their families in both American music and sports entertainment. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has been moving rather quickly regarding recently filed applications and the outcome of the news seems to travel fast.  Cardi B, Nipsey Hussle, and Kim Kardashian-West have been trending topics around the country within the past week.

So for a small recap, if you are unfamiliar with the trademarking process, I’ll provide you with a fundamental definition in layman’s terms.  Filing for a registered trademark is used to protect a word, slogan, or logo for an entity’s who desired to exploit a brand for monetary gain.  A registered trademark also puts the country of your domicile on notice that said you hold ownership and full rights to the mark. Again, this only applies to the country that you register your trademark.  

If you plan to expand your brand in the international marketplace, it is highly recommended that you seek the counsel of a licensed attorney within the countries of interest. NBA basketball legend, Michael Jordan and his Jumpman brand learned the hard way which it took years to rectify the situation.  Do you get the gist?

Now that you have a snippet of what enticed you to click on the headline, let’s get to it.

Okurrr!!! Well Not So Much

When Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B made her debut on the music scene, she popularized a common everyday word “okay” into “okurrr” because okay is just not enough yet entertaining.  This past week, her applications filed by her legal team in March for word marks “okurrr” for use on paper goods, specifically paper cups and posters, and “okurr” for clothing were denied.  The USPTO stated that “the applied-for mark is a commonplace term, message, or expression widely used by a variety of sources that merely conveys an ordinary, familiar, well-recognized concept or sentiment.”  

The USPTO cited online publications to prove that Cardi B was not the first to coin this famous catchphrase.  The government office continued with “this term or expression is commonly used in the drag community and by celebrities as an alternate way of saying “OK” or “something that is said to affirm when someone is being put in their place.”  

After doing some more research, I learned that the phrase has been used in television shows such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.  However, Broadway actress Laura Bell Bundy aka “Shocantelle Brown” on YouTube is heard using it ten years ago. In conclusion of this section, I was “today years old” regarding the background of the word.

The Marathon Continues

#TheMarathonContinues as a short-lived trademark dispute between the brother and business partner of the tragically slain Grammy-nominated rapper, Nipsey Hussle, Blacc Sam and Crips LLC (a company formed by the L.A. based street gang) over the catchphrase “The Marathon Continues.” Unbeknownst to him, his trademark application was filed 12 days after Crips LLC had filed theirs.  As of last week, an official spokesperson for the organization communicated that there was no ill-intent towards his family about applying for the trademark, have apologized and will hand the trademark over to the family.  What a great amicable ending.  Rest In Power Nipsey Hussle.

#KimOhNo

Kim Kardashian West made headlines with her new shapewear line called Kimono, which she says is a play off her name.  However, the Japanese culture and Twitter were not having it accusing her of cultural appropriation, a term that has been attributed to her several times in pop culture. Her business move became a trending hashtag of #KimOhNo. Traditionally, a kimono is a Japanese garment worn by women for special occasions and has been as such for 1000’s of years.  

The widespread news captured the attention of the mayor of Kyoto, Japan, Daisaku Kadokawa.  Kadokawa addressed Kim in a harmonious letter, posted on the internet, encouraged her to change the name of her shapewear line, educated her on the historical background of the traditional dress and extended an invitation to visit the country to learn more about the culture.  Kim posted Instagram that she has listened and has decided to change the name of her shapewear line.

So what are the morals of these stories:

  • You cannot trademark a commonly used word or phrase.
  • Seek to trademark every created slogan that is attached to your brand name.
  • Research and always remember to be culturally sensitive when brainstorming a brand name.
  • Surround yourself with subject matter experts in the area of marketing.
  • If you don’t know, now you know.

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