American cooking and home decorating guru Martha Stewart has upset the residents of her newly adopted home town by trade marking the name for her home decorating products. Trade mark law may not extend as far as outraged residents fear, though.
Stewart has moved to the chic town of Katonah in upstate New York where she now lives next door to Ralph Lauren and where her neighbours include Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and Glenn Close.
Stewart has applied to trade mark the name Katonah for her homeware goods such as paints, lighting and accessories. Residents are protesting and have formed a campaign, Nobody Owns Katonah.
Local business owners fear that they may have to change the name of companies named after Katonah, but trade mark specialist Lee Curtis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that their fears may not be well grounded.
"You have a defence in trade mark infringement actions, you can use a geographical term in a descriptive sense, so people from Glastonbury or people from Katonah can say 'I am from Katonah' or 'I have a business in Katonah'," Curtis said.
"If that's the case then they're perfectly free to use the term in a descriptive sense, so no-one who's got a legitimate interest in or trades in those geographical areas will be stopped from using the terms," he said.
Speaking to weekly technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio, Curtis said that fears that Stewart would 'own' the Katonah name for all purposes are also unfounded. He said that since a word or phrase can only be trade marked for a limited set of goods or services, Stewart would have no blanket rights to the name.
It is perfectly legal to trade mark the name of some towns for some purposes, but that right does not extend to all places, said Curtis.
"It depends on the size of the town or city and whether that city or town is well known for the goods for which you're seeking protection," he said. "So for example it's unlikely you could get a registration for the simple word London because various different businesses operate in the London area, it's so big."
"And, for example, Cheddar, you couldn't register that for cheddar cheese, because the Cheddar area is well known for cheese, so it very much depends on the size of the city or area and whether it's well known for the goods or services," he said.
A similar problem arose in Glastonbury last year. Michael Eavis, the farmer behind the Glastonbury music festival, wanted to trade mark the word Glastonbury as it applies to performing arts festivals. Curtis said that Eavis and the town had constructive dialogue and were able to resolve the matter between themselves once everyone understood exactly what the trade mark process involved.
"It's not so much about trade mark law as may about patting down a few ruffled feathers," said Curtis.