Celebrity or not – defend your trademark rights

Novagraaf’s Trecina Surti examines how the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approached a recent high-profile trademark dispute between two doctors.

Andre Romelle Young, or Dr Dre as he is more commonly known, is an extremely popular American rapper. As well as topping the charts in his rap career, he has been successful in many business ventures; in particular, as the co-founder of Death Row Records and founder of Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics. However, Dr Dre has not enjoyed the same success in his three-year trademark dispute with a gynaecologist by the name of Dr Drai in the US.

Dr Drai recently filed a trademark application for his name ‘Dr Drai’.  As the mark is phonetically identical to ‘Dr Dre’, Dr Dre attempted to take action by filing a trademark opposition on the grounds of likelihood of confusion, false suggestion of connection and dilution. In other words, Dr Dre claimed that the trademark would create consumer confusion between the brands and simultaneously dilute his brand.

The USPTO concluded that while it is commonplace that celebrities use their name to endorse various different products and services, it is highly unlikely the general public will confuse Dr Drai and Dr Dre, as Dr Dre is clearly not a medical doctor qualified to sell or provide services in the medical industry.

While each case is decided on its merits, this case acts as a lesson for individuals not to be intimidated by popular celebrities or giant companies when it comes to protecting trademark rights. In this case, a doctor from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania successfully defended his rights against an action from world-renowned rapper Dr Dre; others may have been daunted by his celebrity status and the costs involved.

Trecina Surti is a Trainee Trademark Attorney at Novagraaf in London

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