The recent phenomenon of Linsanity has put a spotlight on the issue of whether or not you can trademark a person’s name. If you do not know what we mean by Linsanity, just check out www.linsanity.com. Jeremy Lin is the latest NBA phenomenon with an amazing underdog story who, in February 2012, led an unexpected winning streak by the New York Knicks while being promoted to the starting lineup. His sudden rise has generated a global following known as Linsanity. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Lin).
So what does Linsanity have to do with trademarking a name? In February 2012, as Lin’s notoriety was on the rise, no less than ten trademark registration applications were filed at the United States Patent & Trademark Office for the mark LINSANITY. How many of them who thought they were trademarking a name were Jeremy Lin? Just one!
Jeremy Lin filed his trademark registration application on February 13, 2012. (It was not a Friday.) Two others filed trademark applications for LINSANITY before Lin, and the other applicants filed their applications afterwards. Some of the descriptions of goods include athletic uniforms, apparel for dancers, moisture-wicking sports shirts, scientific and technological apparel, women’s blouses, and eyeglasses. We are not sure what scientific and technological apparel is (lab coats?), but we’re pretty sure whoever filed this application knew about Jeremy Lin’s mode of Linsanity.
So will there be a challenge to trademarking a name for Lin? Probably not. The USPTO does not allow trademarking a name of another living person without their consent or trademarking a name that could suggest a false association with someone famous. It doesn’t matter if it the exact name, a nickname, or some other name so long as the public would recognize and understand the mark as identifying the person.
This issue come up every four years when we elect a new President of the United States. For example, over 175 U.S. trademark applications were filed for marks including Barack Obama’s name in one form or another. Most of them have gone abandoned. So in Jeremy Lin’s case all of the other trademark applications for LINSANITY are likely suffer the same fate. In fact, at least two of the other applicants have already expressly abandoned their LINSANITY trademark applications – most likely in response to a threatening lettersfrom Lin’s trademark attorney.