Registering the name of a famous living individual can protect the famous name after the individual passes

The Ms. Teresea H. Earnhardt v. Bobby Dale Earnhardt LLC case is also interesting because it is a great example of how to maintain one’s famous name as a trademark after one dies.

As a recap of the holding of the case, the Applicant was not able to register BOBBY DALE EARNHARDT as a trademark because DALE EARNHARDT was already registered for essential the same goods.  

However, had the DALE EARNHARDT only been established as a trademark for automobile racing, it could be argued that all associated rights expired upon the death of the individual because the rights were personal to Dale Earnhardt.

By extending trademark protection to stickers, beverage containers/holders, clothing and toys, Dale Earnhardt and the subsequent owners of his trademarks were able to maintain trademark rights in DALE EARNHARDT after the legendary racer passed.  

This Practice Pointer applies to all celebrities.  For example, a famous actor/actress clearly has trademark rights in his/her name for acting services while alive.  But the surviving estate/family does not necessary enjoy those same rights once the celebrity passes (e.g., it could be argued that any trademark rights associated with acting are abandoned as soon as the celebrity is no longer living).

One way to protect a well-known name indefinitely, if the name is not already associated with products, is to establish a website dedicated to the preservation of the celebrity’s career and life story. That way, the name lives on as a trademark and can survive for as long as the name continues to be used as a trademark.

Image Courtesy of: David Ohmer Used under Creative Commons license