What’s in a name?

With the sad passing of Jane Russell this week, we can all reflect that in her hey-day, some gentlemen did prefer brunettes. The various obituaries that we have come across at FrontRow talk of her status as a ‘Hollywood Sex Symbol’ and a ‘glamorous pin-up’. Image and style were as important then as they are now. Back then we had the boast from MGM (which was later denied by the actress) that Betty Grable had her legs insured for £1million. Now we have Heidi Klum who insured her legs for a little over that sum.

The most recent example of protecting one’s brand arguably comes from Julian Assange who wants to trade mark his name.

Assange filed for three trademarks recently: WikiLeaks, WIKILEAKS and JULIAN ASSANGE. Assange’s application seeks to protect his name in the areas of “Public speaking services; news reporter services; journalism; publication of texts other than publicity texts; education services and entertainment services”. This is a rather confined list of specifications, compared with other trade marks that are on the Intellectual Property Register. Once the application is advertised, opponents will have two months (which can be extended to three months) to raise objections.

Trade marking a common name is not as difficult as one would imagine provided that there are not other brands in the market which pose a real risk of confusion. Where it will get interesting will be to see whether the owners of Wikipedia (Wikimedia) object to the registration of WikiLeaks. Assange will argue that he has had a strong presence in the market and that his product has enough of a reputation not to be confused with the internet encyclopedia. Rather, he may be looking to protect himself from his present and future competitors, such as OpenLeaks.

Brand protection is a vital commodity in today’s market. Assange has reportedly come under criticism for his new status as a celebrity, given his roots in waging a ‘war on secrecy’. However, in this case he is perhaps just following in the footsteps of others who have sought to protect their product, their image, and almost, one might argue, their livelihood.

Heidi Klum’s a model. She needs those legs. And Assange is now a household name which he needs to protect.

We will continue to track the progress of the trade marks.

Published March 3, 2011

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