By Ramona Livera and Vasileios Vasios

In today’s society where there’s a strong emphasis on celebrities and public figures in the entertainment industry, having a famous name is increasingly important.

In the worlds of art, literature, music, sports, authorship and other areas of renown, the recognition of one’s name is intricately intertwined with their status and influence. As they carefully craft their public persona, these prominent individuals have the ability to protect and control their names through legal channels like trademark registration. A celebrity’s name carries significant value and trademarking it can offer protection against unauthorised use and financial exploitation of their image and reputation for financial gain.

More specifically, trademarking a celebrity name can secure exclusive rights of its use both nationally and internationally. It allows celebrities to prevent their names from being associated with goods or services of inferior quality and demonstrates a commitment to safeguarding one’s name from misuse by third parties. Moreover, trademarking gives the celebrity the authority to license their brand name, enabling them to receive royalties.

Trademarking can also curtail the impersonation or unauthorised use of a celebrity name in social media handles and domain names by cyber squatters. A trademark on a celebrity’s name does not expire, provided it remains in commercial use and continues to be associated its owner. However, simply having a celebrity name does not automatically guarantee success of a trademark application.

In Cyprus, trademarking a celebrity’s name, whether for an actor, athlete, singer, or writer can be quite a challenging process. Certain key factors must be accounted for due to the unique challenges posed by the Cyprus trademarking system. Under the Cyprus Trade Marks Law, a mark which consists of a person’s name can be protected provided that the name:

  1. can distinguish the goods or services of a person from the goods or services of another person;
  2. may be represented in the register as defined in the regulations in such a way to enable the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus and the public to clearly and precisely identify the subject matter of the protection afforded to its right holder.

Moreover, the Cyprus Trade Marks Law provides that a trademark cannot be registered if it is not distinctive. For legal protection, a trademark must therefore be distinct. When attempting to register a celebrity name as a trademark, there’s a risk that the Cyprus Office may reject it if deemed not distinctive enough, if it’s unlikely to be recognised by the public as indicating trade origin, or if the celebrity’s name is merely descriptive of the goods or services proposed.

Consequently, if a celebrity name is too common or descriptive, it may not qualify for trademark protection, leading to a possible rejection by the Cyprus Office. Applicants are therefore urged to exercise careful consideration in selecting the goods or services tied to a celebrity trademark application for which protection is sought.

In a related context, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), recently declined the registration of the moniker “George Orwell” as a trademark, particularly for items like “printed matter” and “multimedia recordings and publications”. The EUIPO reasoned that consumers would likely perceive the name “George Orwell” as a descriptive indication of the content of these products, perhaps expecting them to relate to George Orwell’s work. However, it’s worth noting that the decision is currently under appeal and a final decision has not yet been delivered.

A key factor to achieving the successful trademark registration of a celebrity name in Cyprus hinges on a strategic examination and selection of goods or services that align with the celebrity’s established association, ensuring the name meets the criterion of “acquired distinctiveness”.

Applicants must present satisfactory evidence to the Cyprus Office, demonstrating that the applied-for name has been actively used in commerce for the designated goods and/or services under the Nice Classification. The process must be navigated carefully to avoid potential legal conflicts, especially if the celebrity’s name could be confused with an existing registered trademark.

Therefore, to secure effective trademark protection for a celebrity name, it is crucial to conduct a thorough and in-depth trademark search for any similar or conflicting registered trademarks in all relevant geographical markets, both nationally and internationally. Further, it is vital that the scope of coverage of the celebrity’s name is determined, and that diligent legal and commercial advice is sought, before proceeding with the filing of the national trademark application with the Cyprus Office. This approach minimises the risk of objections or opposition to the registration.

In conclusion, registering a celebrity name as a trademark in Cyprus poses several challenges, requiring careful planning and strategic decision making to reduce potential legal hurdles. For celebrities and public figures, a moniker holds more significance than a mere identifier – it becomes a highly valuable resource and an integral aspect of one’s professional identity. Trademark law provides a framework for these individuals to manage, leverage and monetise their personal brand in ways that would otherwise be unattainable.

Trademarks grant celebrities the power to safeguard their public images, thwart deceptive practices and unauthorised use, engage in lucrative licensing agreements, and expand their personal brands well beyond the roles that first made them famous.

In the complex world of celebrity branding, trademarks serve as a formidable force, providing both protection and influence that individuals are reluctant to relinquish once firmly established. They effectively transform personal identities into legally enforceable intellectual property, offering a strategic advantage in managing their reputation.

Ramona Livera and Vasileios Vasios are lawyers at Elias Neocleous law office