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Prince: a life in trademarks


Prince Rogers Nelson used a series of stage names during his musical career. In addition to his best-known moniker Prince, the artist famously became known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (TAFKAP) after adopting an unpronounceable symbol as his stage name during a dispute with his record company Warner Brothers. Interestingly, the trademark registration protecting the name Prince was allowed to expire twice.

The initial trademark application for the name Prince was filed at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 1989 for: entertainment services, namely live musical and vocal performances by an individual. It was approved for registration in 1990, but it was cancelled in 1996 after the owner (PRN Music Corporation) failed to file a declaration of use of the mark in commerce under Section 8.

US trademark law requires Section 8 declarations to be filed between the fifth and sixth anniversaries, and ninth and tenth anniversaries of a registration (and then again for each successive ten-year period as part of the renewal process). A mark to protect the name Prince was re-registered in 1997, but allowed to expire again in 2004 for apparently the same reason.

The current trademark was re-filed in October 2014 and approved on 25 April this year, four days after the pop legend was found lifeless in his recording studio Paisley Park (the owner for this mark is now cited as Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc).

Sign o’ the times?
A similar picture is true for other Prince-related trademarks, including: Prince and the Revolution (abandoned in 1985 and 1990 – due to failure to respond or late response), Paisley Park (cancelled in 1991 and 1995 – no statement of use filed), and The New Power Generation (cancelled in 1999 and 2004 – section 8). The New Power Generation mark was registered again in 2014.

A trademark to protect the ‘love’ symbol (see right) was also registered in 2003 and later renewed (although the classes protecting both ‘paper goods’ and ‘education and entertainment’ were both abandoned).  

Administrative oversight?
US trademark blogger Martha Engel also highlighted this peculiar pattern on the DuetsBlog last month, adding that: “even before it was confirmed by a judge that Prince had no will, his trademark filings gave subtle hints that maybe his affairs were not fully in order.”

This is not to say, however, that the artist was completely unaware of the value of his IP assets. Engel also points out a little known fact: Prince also invented and protected as a design patent (now expired) a new keyboard design.

His genius will be sadly missed.  

Dennis Wilke works in Novagraaf’s Competence Centre. He is based in Amsterdam.