Celebrity Trademark Watch: Beyoncé Sues Feyoncé and Fame is the Name of the Game

RINGBeyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, known to most as simply Beyoncé, and as “Bey” to those who like to pretend they know her, is about as famous as one can be.  She transitioned from the acclaimed group “Destiny’s Child” to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world.  Number one hits, Grammy Awards, sold-out tours, and even a reasonably successful film career are firmly under her fashionable belt.

As a testament to her red-hot notoriety, she released an eponymously titled album in December 2013 without a drop of advance promotion and people went kind of nuts for it.  The artist ultimately sold more than five million copies of the album Beyoncé worldwide.

Fame has its advantages, of course: free luxury items a celebrity can easily afford, never having to wait in line, and the occasional drop-in at the White House, to name a few.  But the perks of fame are not for people alone.  Trademarks that have grown to become famous brands may not be able to get plum seats to see Hamilton on a whim, but they do get their own cause of action for infringement – trademark dilution.

Trademark Dilution Explained

Trademark dilution, actionable under U.S. federal trademark law, provides the owner of a famous trademark standing to sue others for using the same or a confusingly similar variation of that mark in a way that would diminish its value. In order to prevail in a federal dilution claim, a brand owner must show that its mark is nationally famous (niche or regional fame is not sufficient) and that it is recognized by the general consuming public as a source identifier for the brand owner’s goods or services.

Unlike the likelihood of confusion analysis applied in infringement actions to all trademarks, famous and not famous, a dilution claim does not require the brand owner to show that the alleged infringer is using the mark in question in connection with the same, similar, or related goods or services.  For example, a famous trademark used to sell soft drinks might suffer dilution if another company uses a similar mark to sell window blinds.

The accused mark may dilute a famous mark by blurring or tarnishment. Blurring is the whittling away of a mark’s distinctiveness.  Tarnishment is harm to the brand owner’s reputation because the accused mark is used on poor quality goods or in a unwholesome context.

Beyoncé’s Recent Trademark Litigation

What does this have to do with Beyoncé?  The answer is Feyoncé, a “unique” spelling of fiancé used to sell shirts and mugs to the recently betrothed.  Picture a coffee mug with “Feyoncé – He Put a Ring On It” emblazoned on the side.  Sound familiar?  (If it doesn’t, where were you in 2009?)  Needless to say, Beyoncé is not amused.  She has been busy selling millions of dollars’ worth of various and sundry goods (not to mention providing entertainment services) in connection with her registered BEYONCÉ trademark for nearly twenty years.

Beyoncé may occasionally perform upside down, but she is not one to take things lying down.  She recently filed a trademark infringement and dilution lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging, among other things, that the use of “Feyoncé” is likely to dilute the distinctive quality of the famous BEYONCÉ mark.  The defendants have not yet had to answer the complaint, and there is still no word on whether Versace is making a dress for Beyoncé to testify in.

And for the record, she has not yet asserted the “If I bought it, please don’t touch” doctrine.

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