What’s in a Name?

What do you think of when you see these images? Chances are when you see the “Mouth”, you automatically think of the Rolling Stones or elderly rockers. When you see the Steal Your Face (skull) you probably think of the Grateful dead or really elderly hippies. When you happen upon the bat like W, you most likely think of the Wu Tang Clan and one of hip hop’s originators.

These logos and the band names associated with them are distinct. The success of the individuals behind the names have taken merely a band’s name and transformed it into something more; something far reaching and immediately identifiable to not only the band but the type of music that band plays.

Today you can buy a Rolling Stones inspired cell phone, a Grateful Dead set of cuflinks or even a onsie for your newborn with the Wu symbol on it. All of these products are under the control of their respective bands. But what is to stop the an entrepreneurial crook from taking the Stones’ name and slapping it on a Frisbee, a cigarette pack or a bottle of whiskey? Let’s take it one step further, what’s to stop a group of 8 aspiring Finnish rappers from performing under the name Wu-Tang Klizan?

The simple answer is trademark protection. Each one of the above logos is a trademark owned or controled by the respective band (or band member). A trademark is a distinctive word, phrase, name, symbol or design (or a combination of any of those) that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of the owner from the rest of the public. Just like copyright protection, there is a “common law” trademark which offers the owner a certain degree of protection and a federally recognized and registered trademark which heightens that level of protection. The registration process is handled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (check it out at http://www.uspto.gov/).

As a musician you can trademark a bunch of things. Your band’s name, obviously, but also your logo as a design, your band name in a design or perhaps the slogan for your summer tour. Here are some famous band names in a distinct script or design that have been protected by their famous owners:

Both are registered trademarks of their respective legendary bands.

There is an additional dimension to trademarks. Trademarks are divided into numerous classes. Each class has a specific definition for which the applied for mark falls under. For example, International Class 41 covers a multitude of entertainment services and International Class 09 includes recorded music in many different formats. Each class requires a new application (and the corresponding fee). So, you have to think about what type of goods and services you or your band may offer; from selling DVDs to t-shirts to motor oil, a separate application will be needed.

For a band that is just starting out a typical concern is not whether to apply and register a mark for their band, but rather to make sure that their unique band name is in fact unique and does not violate a previously registered mark. A little common sense and help from your friendly advisers should be able to help steer you and your band mates in the right direction. Just remember, a name not only says a lot about you, it may help you create the brand image you need to succeed.

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