10 July 2011

On Trademark

Sarah Palin has trademarked her name. The former Alaskan governor turned Fox News commentator, Going Rogue author, TLC reality star and SarahPAC founder - wait, do I really have to tell you who Sarah Palin is? - submitted an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that is due to be approved within the next few weeks. When it is, Palin's name will be trademarked for "educational and entertainment services" as well as "motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values," according to her patent applications. Her daughter Bristol, 20, has also trademarked her name for motivational speaking, but in the field of "life choices."
"Essentially what they are doing is trying to commercialize themselves," says Neil Friedman, a New York trademark attorney. It's rare for politicians to trademark their names, but Palin left office in 2009 and has since become a successful media and entertainment figure. She has trademarked her name the way someone like Calvin Klein might trademark his.

Though trademark is part of IP, I generally tend to ignore it because it has very little in common with patent and copyright.  Patent and trademark are concerned with ideas while trademark is primarily concerned with identification.

Incidentally, trademark is more useful for corporations than individuals because a corporate entity is abstract and contextual whereas an individual entity is concrete and absolute.  As such, the need for trademark is mostly due to the market distortion of the corporate entity, which occurs because corporations are not generally identified with specific individuals.

The theory behind trademark is that brands need to be able to distinguish themselves from their rivals, and their ability to distinguish themselves is essential to ensuring the market performs efficiently.  This sounds good, but it is predicated on a fallacy:  namely, it is assumed that people “own” their reputation.  The idea is that businesses must be able to protect their reputation in order to serve consumers properly.  Businesses must, then, be able to prevent others from claiming to be them when they really aren’t, especially when fakers are offering shoddy products.

But this assumption is false because one’s reputation consists of what other people think.  To own one’s reputation requires one to police other people’s thoughts and/or actions.  This presents a conflict of rights that cannot be resolved.  This, in turn, indicates that one cannot own one’s reputation, and cannot therefore use the law to force others to think a certain way.

This further means, getting back to the topic at hand, that Sarah Palin’s attempt to trademark her name is nothing short of ludicrous.  In the first place, the trademark system as a whole is predicated on a fallacy, and so any action attempting to make use of the system is likewise predicated on the same fallacy.  (And isn’t it interesting that Sarah Palin is attempting to make use of a system that allows her to exercise some measure of control over what people say about her?)

In the second place, Sarah doesn’t really need to trademark her name.  Unlike a corporation, she is a concrete entity, which means that consumers will be able to tell quite easily whether it is, in fact, Sarah Palin that is speaking at a conference (this is the relevant metric since her trademark is to be used in the context of public speaking and appearances).  As such, she really has no need to trademark herself since she is already easily and unmistakably identifiable.


  1. Here are some interesting quotes below about Palin:

    From a conservative blogger:

    With Palin we get the worst of both worlds. We get the tinny appearance of a hardline right-winger, with the gun rhetoric, the lust for killing animals, and all the rest of it; and we get the concrete actuality of a feminist liberal who has allied herself with the homosexualist lobby. On the level of symbols, Palin is a rightist; the right loves her for it, and the left hates her--and hates all conservatives--for it. On the level of reality, she's a social liberal. All that right-wing excitement, all that left-wing fear and loathing, all that passion tearing our political society apart, and it's all about nothing, it's all about an illusion.

    Why do I say that Palin gives us the worst of both worlds? Because with her we get the redoubled liberal demonization of conservatives as dangerous extremists, and we get the actual transformation of conservatism into social liberalism.

  2. A discussion on Palin from amnation.com/vfr:

    LA replies:

    Yes. The liberal mainstream media sees the statement "Islam does not belong in Germany" as horrible and wicked, while serious opponents of Islam in the West see it as inspiring and hopeful. But both groups are operating under an illusion, for the simple reason that Friedrich didn't say it.
    How many of our controversies today are just like that? Take Sarah Palin. Many conservatives absolutely love her, because they see her as a "real conservative," while people on the left absolutely loathe her, for exactly the same reason. But both sides are wrong, because in so many ways Palin is not a real conservative. For example, the left thinks that she's a Torquemada on abortion, when, in reality, she has never proposed any restrictions on abortion and has always expressed her opposition to abortion in terms of her personal beliefs while indicating tolerance for people with different beliefs.

    Similarly, many liberals, amazingly, have called Palin a white racist, while some race-conscious conservatives have considered her at least a representative of whiteness. In reality, Palin has never emitted the slightest hint that she opposes the current liberal racial order or would do anything as president to undercut it.

    Thus the whole passionate, hate-filled fight between left and right over Sarah Palin is based on illusions, driven by overcharged but misleading symbols rather than by anything real.

    In the same way, every time some European political figure issues some patently equivocal statement criticizing multiculturalism, the left reacts in panic, and the right reacts with joy, both sides believing that the rule of multiculturalism has been rejected and is imminently threatened, when in reality, multiculturalism is deeply ensconsed in Europe.

    What is the underlying reality that creates the susceptibility to these and similar illusions?

    The left psychologicially needs a conservative enemy who threatens to defeat liberalism. The right psychologically needs a conservative champion who promises to defeat liberalism. In reality, no such conservative leader exists today; in reality, there is nothing on the scene today that poses an immediate threat to the reign of liberalism. But both sides, for their own internal reasons, need to believe that the reign of liberalism is threatened, and so they believe it.

    Daniel S. replies:

    I would wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. The way liberals spend their every waking minute attacking and demonizing "conservatives" like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Bill O'reilly as if they were some sort of real threat to the reign of liberalism. In turn, the bulk of self-described conservatives rally around these same figures as if they were the saviors of America who would, like a sort of modern Republican St. Patrick, drive the snakes of liberalism from our shores. The truth is that Palin, Beck, and the rest are not any sort of threat to the dominance of liberalism, because they are themselves infected with a mindset very much shaped by liberalism.

  3. @alcestiseshtemoa- can you please provide links or urls to the posts you quoted?

    Also, I've used one of your comments as a launching point for another post, which can be found here.