By King & Wood Mallesons’ Trademark Group
Registering a foreign celebrity’s name as a trademark is an occurrence frequently seen in China. From Leonardo da Vinci and Air Jordan in the past to the rising NBA star Jeremy Lin, it has become a shortcut for companies to quickly occupy the market by using the foreign celebrities’ names as their trademarks.
The name right refers to the right of a citizen to decide, use and alternate the name by himself and to require others to respect his name. Article 31 of the PRC Trademark Law (the "Trademark Law") provides that protection on prior rights has covered protection on the name right. In addition, Article 10 of the Trademark Law provides that trademark registration should not be detrimental to social morals or customs, or have other harmful influences. These provisions also reflect the legislative intent to protect name rights. Specifically, the Trademark Examination Criteria provides that, without authorization, if registering another’s name as a trademark has caused or may cause damage to the name right of other, the mark shall be disapproved or cancelled from registration. The following conditions shall be met when applying under the above rule: a) the disputed mark is the same as the name of an individual; b) The registration of the disputed mark has caused or may cause damage to the name right of that individual. The names include legal names, pen names, and nick names. If using a name to register a mark may be detrimental to social morals or customs or cause other harmful influences, it shall be subject to the provisions under Article 10.