US District Court of Manhattan has rejected pop superstar Beyoncé’s request for injunction against a Texas-basedcompany Feyoncé Inc. The Grammy winner submitted to the Court in 2016 that Feyoncé Inc., which sells clothing and accessories targeted at engaged or married couples, infringes her mark ‘Beyoncé’ and would lead to confusion. It is to be noted that Beyoncé has multiple trademarks registered in her name including in clothing and accessories. The Judge stated that the use of a pun on the ‘exceedingly famous’ mark of the pop star does not mean that confusion will ensue among the public. Judge Alison Nathan noted that by replacing the letter word B in ‘Beyoncé’ to F in ‘Feyoncé’ made the Defendant sound like ‘fiancé’ which targeted at their core customer base and hence, does not cause confusion. The Judge compared the same to a previous case where a brand used a ‘swoosh’ with ‘Mike’ written above it which was similar to the sports brand Nike’s trademark. She stated that just like the Mike case, target customers of Feyoncé Inc. are very different from Beyoncé’s customer base/fans who will not confuse the former with the pop artist’s name. Takeaways
- The Judge said “Viewed in the light most favorable to Defendants, this evidence suggests that consumers are understanding the pun, rather than confusing the brands.” Hence confirming that pun or word play on a famous mark which targets a specific audience is not a direct trademark infringement.
- Capitalisation on a popular mark to create a word play is not always infringement if the lines are clearly demarcated. In this case, the capitalisation attempt was on a pop star’s name, which is widely famous across the globe. Hence, Court’s decision to demarcate on the basis of target audience is an interesting precedent.