Keeping up with the Kardashians' trademarks

When it comes to trademarks, few celebrities can match the Kardashians, except maybe pop star Taylor Swift.

The Kardashians -- the first family of reality TV -- have registered more than 50 trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for products ranging from children's apparel (Kardashian Kids) to cosmetics (Kardashian Beauty Intimate Spotlight) to baseball caps. But also flip flops, footwear, headwear and T-shirts (Kardashian Khaos). 

And, of course, sisters Kim Kardashian West, Khloe Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian have trademarked their names, as most celebrities do.

Trademarks are words, phrases and symbols that distinguish one product from another. They're a form of intellectual property like copyrights and patents. For celebrities, however, trademarks are an increasingly important tool to both build their brands with their fans and prevent unscrupulous hucksters from profiting off their names.  

"It's the whole social media thing," said Larry Zerner, an attorney in Los Angeles who specializes in trademarks. "In the old days, you didn't need a trademark. You were a movie star, and your work was in your movies. There wasn't someone else going, 'Oh, I am Marilyn Monroe, and I'm in a movie."

Disputes over whether one trademark would confuse the public because it's too close to another one are fairly common. Earlier this year, Kylie Jenner settled an argument with Australian singer Kylie Minogue over Jenner's plan to trademark "Kylie" for "advertising services and endorsement services." Nineteen-year-old Kylie Jenner is the daughter of Caitlyn Jenner, the ex-husband of Kris Jenner, the mother of the Kardashians. Kylie Jenner has more than a dozen of trademarks of her own.

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce, has registered three trademarks, including one for a variety of beauty and skin care products. Kris Jenner has five trademarks. The Kardashian family has even protected the name of Robert Kardashian, Kris' ex-husband who gained fame for his role defending O.J. Simpson in his murder trial. He died in 2003.

An attorney for the Kardashians didn't return a call seeking comment for this story.

Swift, who has been a celebrity since she was a teenager, has earned a reputation for her business savvy. She battled streaming music services over their royalty rates and only recently began allowing her music back on Spotify. According to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the 27-year-old holds 83 trademarks, ranging from her initials T.S. to sell everything from paper products to apparel to home decor. 

She also has registered "This Sick Beat," the hook to her hit song "Shake It Off," for the sale of guitar picks and drumsticks. An attorney for Swift couldn't be reached.

Beyonce Knowles and Jay-Z  (a.k.a. Shawn Carter) raised some eyebrows recently when they filed to trademark the names of their month-old twins, Sir and Rumi Carter, for the sale of key chains, fragrances, skin care products and hair spray among other things. 

They may have been motivated to trademark the twins' names because two individuals had registered the name of the celebrity couple's older daughter, Blue Ivy, but wound up abandoning their effort, according to attorney Cindy Walden, head of Fish & Richardson's Trademark and Copyright Group.

"I am sure it's because they got a demand letter" from Beyonce and Jay-Z threatening legal action, she said.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jay-Z is quoted as saying the couple trademarked Blue Ivy's name to prevent other people from exploiting it for profit. The couple hasn't sold any products using their children's names. However, their Blue Ivy trademark filing is being challenged by a Boston-based event planner of the same name that has operated since 2009.  

Both Beyonce and Jay-Z each have more than a dozen trademarks registered under their names. A spokesperson for the couple couldn't be reached.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.