Earlier this week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office informed Alexandre Batlle that it would not register the proposed trademark "OBAMA BIN LADEN," which of course conflates the names of presidential candidate "Barack Obama" and non-presidential-candidate "Osama bin Laden." Batlle had hoped to use the trademark to market a variety of stuff.
The PTO also told Batlle that it was considering taking away his right to use his own last name if he doesn’t take steps to fix the seriously jacked-up spelling he is currently using for it.
Three reasons were given for the refusal to register "OBAMA BIN LADEN."
First, the mark would be "scandalous" under 15 U.S.C. sec. 1052(a). For this purpose, a mark is "scandalous" if it is, for example, "disgraceful," "offensive," "disreputable," or "calling out for condemnation," determined according to a "substantial composite of the general public . . . in the context of contemporary attitudes." I’m sure we could come up with a lot of other things that should apply to, but for the purposes of trademarkery it was enough to point out that bin Laden is a terrorist and so his name is now "scandalous and is not registrable."
Second, the mark was found to "falsely associate" the proposed service with Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. Note that this was not a finding that they were falsely associated with each other. The PTO was saying it was concerned that one or both of them might be falsely associated with the proposed service (e.g. selling T-shirts) because both are "so famous that consumers would presume a connection." Not sure who would presume that bin Laden is in the T-shirt business, but I guess you never know.
Third, "the record does not include the written consent of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden" to the use of their names. "To overcome this refusal," the examiner wrote, "the applicant must therefore submit written consent from the two individuals."
Hey, Mr. bin Laden? Hi, nice cave. Look, sorry to bother you — I was wondering if it would be okay for me to use your last name for this refrigerator magnet? A refrigerator. It keeps — never mind. It would be on shirts too. See, your name is sort of like this other guy’s, who is running for President, and — yeah, I think it’s hilarious too. If you could just sign this form, then I could get a trademark. Of course I’d be splitting the profits with you. Okay, 60-40 for you. I understand. Okay, if you put it that way, 95-5. Hey, thanks a lot. If I could just get your address for the royalty checks —
Batlle says his cousin’s wife is a trademark lawyer and that she may appeal the decision for her. "I’m thinking about it. I think I should get some credit for all of this," he said, "this" apparently referring to his outstanding cultural contribution to humanity.