Taylor Swift’s Trademark Play
Taylor Swift’s IP management and holding company, TAS Rights Management, LLC, recently filed 73 trademark applications directed to 20 different marks for a wide range of goods and services. The applications were filed based upon an intent to use the marks with the various goods and services, and appear to be an effort to protect several different Taylor Swift projects, from a novel that Swift published when she was 15 to her upcoming album. As long as she has a “bona fide” or real intent to use the marks in commerce in connection with the identified goods and services, the trademark applications are legitimate. Filing applications for a large number of marks for use on a vast number of goods and services has been asserted as evidence that the intent to use the marks was not real and that the applications were therefore invalid. However, such evidence can be countered by evidence of plans to use the marks, such as business plans and/or trademark clearance searches, followed by evidence of activities undertaken to develop the goods and services, such as product design, packaging development or market studies. Unless challenged, the declaration of an intent to use the marks is likely to be accepted at face value.
Should actual use of the marks on the goods and services begin, which will be required for any registrations to actually issue, and the registrations issue, they will protect against use by others of any marks with any goods or services where such use could cause confusion. That is, others could potentially use the same or similar marks as long as such use would not be likely to cause people to incorrectly believe that the use was associated with Taylor Swift. For example, use of 1989 with plumbing supplies may be acceptable because people would not necessarily believe that Swift was associated with such supplies. However, should the marks become “famous,” Swift could use a trademark dilution cause of action to block use of the marks even in connection with goods or services where no confusion would be likely. Given Taylor Swift’s star power, it is possible she may have a fair chance of developing fame for her marks. Thus, the ultimate scope of protection for these marks may develop over time.
It is also of interest to note that the applications were filed by a limited liability company. Liability arising from products or services having a particular trademark can flow to the trademark owner. Thus, it is often the case that trademarks are owned by limited liability entities.