Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your trademark registration. A group of law students, despite having no competing interests to a trademark registration, were granted permission to oppose a doll’s company’s attempt to register the trademark for RAPUNZEL.Usually the saying used to be if you wanted to oppose a trademark you needed something that legal eagles call “standing”. Standing means a party has been aggrieved in some way and therefore should be able to take action against the person doing them harm. For example, Nike can fight someone trying to register a trademark for NIKEE because they are a competitor and this trademark could hurt its business. A Nike fan would lack such standing because it is not able to show that it has a competitive product or would be hurt by the registration. Buuuut, things seem to be changing.
United Trademarks Holding, Inc. is no stranger to the Trademark Office or this blog. The company routinely registers trademarks of in domain fairy princess names and other characters and usually winds up in a dispute with the fairy princess queen, Disney. Such famous battles between UTH and Disney include fights over ZOMBIE CINDERELLA and teen versions of some princesses. Well Disney is not the only one a little Grumpy (get it??) over UTH’s trademark filings.
Rebecca Curtin, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, and her students, opposed the issuance of the trademark registration claiming that “no company should ever be able to be the only company that can call their doll Rapunzel, because Rapunzel is already in the public domain”. Rebecca Curtin, is a professor of law teaching trademark law, and is also a consumer who participates s in the marketplace for dolls and toy figures of fairytale characters, including Rapunzel. Curtin is a mother of a young girl who has purchased and continues to purchase dolls, including fairy tale dolls. Curtin claims to have been watching the filing of UTH and decided to take a stand at the company’s attempts to lock up the domain names.
But does Curtin have any standing? How would she be harmed?? This is what UTH claimed and the Trademark Office came down with a surprising decision.
The Trademark Office said standing does not necessarily mean that one has to have a commercial interest in a battle in order to fight one. The Office went on to hold that a simple interest in trying to keep words in the public domain is enough. The interest in keeping generic words, generic and not allowing a company to own the rights to it was enough to provide the necessary standing for Curtin. So does this open the door for a lot of other trademark oppositions in the future? Perhaps, but remember this was done by a law professor representing herself. It is not likely that many people are going to want to pay to have a lawyer represent them to fight for similar causes in the future.
Pro bono work is important and if you feel that it is in the public’s interest to prevent a trademark registration, please reach out to me. When there is a wrong to be fought, we will fight it. (Someone trademark that.)