Home / Consumer / Celebrities using trademark route to check name misuse

New Delhi: Bollywood actress Kajol was shocked to discover television news channels last month running reports on derogatory remarks she purportedly made against the Shiv Sena on Twitter.

The lead actress of My Name Is Khan, which had run into trouble with the party, does not have an account on the popular microblogging website.

“People are making fake IDs and behaving as if Kajol made those statements," said Vikrant Sharma, chief executive of Ajay Devgn Ffilms, the eponymous film company owned by Kajol’s film star husband. Sharma said the company approached Twitter and the website has since deleted the comments.

In a bid to check such misuse, Kajol has, over the past year, made a number of submissions to trademark her name in various business categories—including telecommunications, broadcasting, websites, household utensils, carpets, rugs, tents, sacks, bags, yarn and thread, among dozens of items.

She’s not the only one taking pre-emptive steps to stall such misuse. Several Indian celebrities are waking up to the benefits of trademarking their names—and in some cases, their pictures—to check misuse. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, noted cardiologist Naresh Trehan and well-known chef Sanjeev Kapoor, among others, have either applied for or registered their names in various business categories.

“Their names are exclusively associated with them and have acquired a secondary meaning, a distinctiveness of a brand identity," lawyer Pratibha Singh said. “They don’t want other people to misuse their names."

Rahul Chaudhry, partner of Lall Lahiri and Salhotra, a law firm that specializes in the area, said trademarking is not a foolproof method to prevent misuse, but will help celebrities claim ownership of their names and also to license them. “The trademark law, as it stands, protects the unauthorized use of a living person’s name or picture without his/her consent," he said.

Yoga guru Ramdev, who travels the world espousing the ancient Indian form of exercise, finds his name and pictures misused by a horde of marketeers—from sellers of religious DVDs to Ayurvedic pharmacies. “We want to protect his name, which has become the icon of the yoga revolution," Ramdev’s spokesperson S.K. Tijarawala said.

Besides preventing misuse, trademarking names can also help celebrities derive financial benefits by lending them to products.

“For instance, Shah Rukh Khan (Kajol’s co-actor in My Name Is Khan) lent his name to a perfume," said Chaudhry.

According to Manish Porwal, former CEO of celebrity management company Percept Talent Management, it’s difficult to put a value to the names of the celebrities as it’s just a fraction of their total value.

Last year, Reebok India Co. launched a cricket bat personalized by Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh under the “UV" brand, after his nickname Yuvi.

Meanwhile, New Delhi-based Kuber House (Pvt.) Ltd has applied to trademark “Yuvi" for tobacco products such as zafrani zarda, khaini, cigars and cigarettes. Unless contested, the brand name will be used to market gutka and related products.

To protect celebrity chef Kapoor’s intellectual property, his company has applied for at least 100 trademarks in the past few years.

“In case I decide to protest, people misusing the name could ask what right do I have over ‘Sanjeev Kapoor’. To protect the right, you also need to have the legal ownership of that," said Kapoor, who understood the value of trademarks at a traffic signal a decade ago.

A boy was selling recipe books called Khazana of Chinese Recipes with Kapoor’s picture on the cover.

“At that time I had written only one book, which was called Khazana of Indian Recipes. The book cover and my picture were the same," he said. “I had heard of piracy, but this went a step beyond. My face was used to sell something that was not mine."

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