Question: What do Hulk Hogan, Hells Angels and Lady Gaga have in common?
Answer: They all have an Intellectual Property lawyer at the ready –and they’re not afraid to use one in filing IP infringement claims and lawsuits.
Whether celebrities are using this area of the law on sound merits has been a source for much debate, but their efforts help highlight just how pervasive intellectual property claims are becoming nationwide.
Intellectual Property Law Defined
First, definitions. Intellectual property rights is the area of law dealing with the protection of intangible and/or nonconsumable property. While intellectual property may be fabricated onto consumable items – and it often is, the legal concept addresses the rights of the creator or natural owner of a thought, idea, expression, sound, or other creative work.
In other words, it encompasses a broad range of creative stuff. Presently, IP tends to cover trademarks, brands, logos, messages, written concepts, patents, and artistic copyrights.
Celebrity Intellectual Property Claim Examples
The best way to understand intellectual property is to examine some recent claims made on its grounds. As always, more insight is gained when cases are reviewed with an open analysis of the merits. So, you be the judge:
HELLS ANGELS In 2010, the outlaw motorcycle club Hells Angels filed suit against designer Alexander McQueen, and retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Zappos.com. Their claim centered on the use of their trademarked name “Hells Angels,” and logo insignia “death head” skulls in order to sell scarves, rings and dresses on the retailers' websites.
According to Hells Angels Intellectual Property attorney Fritz Clapp, there was “no doubt in my mind the designer had seen the death head mark.”
HULK HOGAN Also in 2010, famed WWF wrestler turned actor/TV personality Hulk Hogan filed suit against Post Cereals. He and his IP attorney claimed the maker of Post Cocoa Pebbles used his image and likeness without permission in a television commercial. The cartoon character used to promote the cereal goes by the name of “Hulk Boulder,” which the Hogan camp claims was his early moniker in the wrestling world.
LADY GAGA Perhaps the most dogged IP protection celebrity out there, Lady Gaga continues to unleash her team of lawyers upon individuals, businesses, and even unsuspecting fans everywhere.
In September 2011, the National Arbitration Forum ruled against Gaga after her legal team went after the fansite LadyGaga.org. In a confusing effort to shut down the fan site perpetuating free and loyal publicity, Lady Gaga lost in the effort when the Forum ruled that the noncommercial site operated by her superfan “Miranda,” did not violate the Lady Gaga trademark.
And, in the same year, the singer sued a London-based ice cream maker for trademark infringement over his “Baby Gaga” ice cream made from human breast milk and other natural ingredients. According to the singer’s intellectual property lawyers, the product uses her image and similar name to promote a “nauseating and intentionally provocative product.”
The image infringement is questionable, since the claim states that the ice cream parlor uses waitresses dressed to look like Lady Gaga. The name violation may also be far-fetched, as the owner-purveyor of the frosty treat says he named it after the first words a baby learns.
IP in the Mainstream
Trayvon Martin’s mother wants to trademark her son’s name. According to a recent FindLaw report, her lawyer filed trademark applications in March to protect intellectual property rights related to the commercial use of her son’s name in 2 popular slogans: “I am Trayvon,” and “Justice for Trayvon.”
Her lawyer says the filings are not-for-profit purposes, but rather to preserve future fundraising earnings for charitable efforts Mrs. Martin hopes to launch in her son’s name.
Check back with Attorney Report for future posts on the exploding practice area of intellectual property.