Trump And Trademarks: The Case For Extravagance



This blog originally appeared in Fast Company.

Though the “Trumptini” may be a stretch of a product, it makes good business sense to file trademarks, even preemptively. If you plan on selling or marketing something under your name, you need to protect your rights. It’s not necessarily greed–just good business sense.

This week it was revealed that Donald Trump has filed more than 200 trademark applications that contain his own name. The 200-plus number is held up as an example of his greed; his need to increase the value of his name (claimed to be $3 billion) by attaching it to “every kind of product imaginable, from hotels to perfume to a vanity beer label.”

A search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website shows the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • Oysters Trump
  • The Trump Art Collection
  • The Trump Follies
  • Trump Airlines
  • Trump Institute
  • Trump Steaks
  • Trump University
  • Trump Vodka
  • Trump’s American Pale Ale
  • Trumptini

And of course, there’s a mark for “The Donald”. (One wonders what sort of show would be associated with The Trump Follies. A musical version of his biography?)

But this story is nothing new. Trump has been filing these trademark applications since the mid-2000s, just about the time that The Apprentice, which he hosted, took off. It was the perfect opportunity to build his personal name into a brand, one that could span much more than real estate development and financial investments. Trump isn’t one to take a few cautious steps into the branding pool–if you can afford it, why not file a couple hundred trademarks for anything and everything you might want to sell or market? It’s a way of protecting yourself legally, and moving your name decisively from something that merely identifies you to an actual marketplace brand that is associated with certain qualities and values (and perhaps greed is one of those values, but I hardly think Trump would have an issue with that).

It’s no different from the several hundred trademark applications filed for the name “Ralph Lauren” by the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, or the 50-plus that include the word “Oprah,” for a boutique, book club, radio show, retail store, university, TV network, as well as candles, mugs, clothing, etc. Trademarks are designed to prevent confusion, that is, to identify goods and services with that mark as coming from one authorized source. This is why it’s a big deal when counterfeit goods are on the market: they have confused the consumer into thinking the purses or shoes or whatever came from the authorized source.

What’s also interesting is the number of celebrities who don’t have trademarks associated with their names. To get a TM for the name of a living and well-known person, you have to have their consent, of course, and this is why the dozens and dozens of potential marks with the name “Obama” in them have been quickly rejected by the USPTO. These include obvious wordplay like “Nobama” (for bumper stickers), “Obamanation” (for T-shirts), and “Obamanopoly” (for a board game–infringing on another trademark! Well done!), as well as an application for a political action committee to be called “Obama Bin Biden,” filed by the charmingly named Jeffrey Crank.

Obama himself doesn’t have any trademarks for his own name – and you’d think he would, being a brand in his own right now–but then, neither does Mitt Romney. Someone has filed an application for “Magic Romney Underwear,” thus killing two birds with one stone by insulting both the candidate and his religion at the same time. It’s almost certain it will be rejected.

Checking a few celebrities from Forbes’s “Powerful Celebrities” list shows that many of them have only a few trademarks, too. Madonna has marks for her name for music and entertainment services (and t-shirts – that’s where the real money is); so does Paul McCartney and Cher, although Cher also has a mark for her name for fragrances, cosmetics, and hair and skin projects. (Perhaps McCartney should have one for hair dye.) Dr. Phil is like Oprah but on a much smaller scale, having marks for his name for his TV show and his books.

Point is, while “Trumptini” may be a silly name (especially when you know that in the UK, “trump” means “fart”), it makes good business sense to file trademarks, even preemptively. If you plan on selling or marketing something under your name, you need to protect your rights. It’s not necessarily greed, just good business sense.

But even with that, you can’t stop people who share a name from legitmately registering marks for their own businesses. While Justin Bieber may have trademarks for “Bieber” for his music and performances, there’s also a mark for “Bieber” filed by another guy named Craig J. Bieber, presumably for his business. What’s that mark for, you might ask? Animal semen. Possibility of confusion? You decide.


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