You have probably seen a trademark symbol denoted by a small TM at the corner of a word or phrase, but what exactly does it mean? A trademark symbol is placed on a word or phrase that identifies a product or service provided by a particular source. Similar to a copyright, obtaining a trademark means that only the source of the good can use the trademarked phrase or symbol.
Previously, politician Sarah Palin and daughter Bristol Palin stirred up controversy when they both applied to have their names trademarked. A trademark placed on a name is similar to a service mark since it denotes a service that is being offered by the person. A trademark can be placed on anything as long as it meets certain requirements.
Requirements to Trademark a Name
In order to trademark a name, the name must have three distinct properties: identify a good or service, distinguish the good or service from others, and be a source indicator. The most difficult requirement to fulfill is proving that the name is a source indicator. This is necessary because once a trademark has been approved no one else can use the name or phrase.
In order to be considered a source indicator, the name itself must inform the public of who you are and the service you will provide. This is incredibly difficult to prove, but it can be done with evidence of a "second meaning." A second meaning means that although a name or phrase is descriptive, when people hear it they think of the specific subject in question. This is difficult with descriptive words such as "red", but it is easier for a well-recognized name such as Sarah Palin.
Most people who file for a trademark are well established and easily distinguishable by name. It is common practice for celebrities to trademark their name and many have done so already such as Lebron James, Elvis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although the typical person will not benefit from trademarking their name, it serves as good legal protection for public figures whose names may be exploited.