March 11, 2014

Trademarking a Person’s Name: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

by Guest Blogger

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, is a 2006 film starring Will Ferrell. It took a comedic look at NASCAR racing and the car racing film genre in general. The movie follows the life of Ricky Bobby, a pit crew member who becomes a famous driver and loses everything after a terrible crash. Ricky Bobby is forced to rebuild his life and NASCAR career with the help of his family and friends. The movie was one of the most successful comedies of all time, grossing almost $170 million at box offices worldwide.

Given the success of the film, it would make sense that merchandising deals would follow. Talladega Nights hats, shirts, and even watches are still available online. In July of 2013, a Talladega Nights themed restaurant called "Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon" opened in Fort Worth, Texas. Unfortunately, it opened without permission of the movie's creators. Although the restaurant does not mention the movie specifically, it is named after the main character, has a NASCAR theme, and uses advertising and decorations with multiple references to dialogue or characters in the movie. The restaurant also features a full size NASCAR that is similar to the car Ricky Bobby drove to make is comeback in the movie.

According to the Complaint, the car from the Ricky Bobby saloon looks very similar to the car from Talladega Nights.

Apparently, the owners of the Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon thought they were in the clear because they believed that the owners of the film could not trademark "Ricky Bobby" because it is a proper name.

Not unexpectedly, Colombia Pictures and Sony Pictures recently came at the owners of the Ricky Bobby Sports Saloon like a spider monkey, alleging just about every violation of intellectual property law you can think of. One issue raised in the Complaint is the saloon owners' belief that proper names cannot be trademarked-- an interesting question for anyone seeking to develop a name for a new business or product.

Without commenting on the merits of this particular case, the saloon owners are incorrect that a proper name cannot be a trademark. For instance, if consumers do not perceive the name to be a person's name, it can be used as a trademark. Even if consumers perceive the word to be a person's name, the name may still be a trademark if it has taken on "secondary meaning," that is, the word has come to identify a single source of origin for particular goods or services.

Whether "Ricky Bobby" will be found to be a protectable trademark here remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the saloon owners could have avoided this dispute by coming up with a more original theme for their restaurant. In trademark law, like in racing, "If you ain't first, you're last."

The lawyers at Trademarkology provide online trademark registration services backed by the experience and service of one of the nation's oldest law firms. Click here to begin the process of protecting your brand name with a federally registered trademark.