Don’t Say It Like That: Beyonce’s Punny Trademark Battle

Posted on 11/20/2018 by Frederick Spaeth, in News and Events, Trademarks

This article was originally published in the October-November edition of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association (GBBA) News Brief

In her album Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé sang “Say My Name,” but she might be hearing “No, No, No” from a company that markets merchandise to the newly betrothed, which styled itself “Feyonce Inc.” In a suit filed in the Federal district court for the Southern District of New York, Beyoncé asserted trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment, and sought partial summary judgment and entry of a permanent injunction against continued use of the name.

The court did not hesitate to acknowledge that Feyonce, Inc. was trying to capitalize on Beyoncé’s fame and the fame of her trademarks (e.g., U.S. Registration Number 2879852 (entertainment services and clothing) (2004) and Reg. no. 4125777 (2012)(perfumes, soaps, etc.). However, they declined to grant summary judgement, ruling that a jury might find that the pun invoked by Feyonce – whose target customers are fiancés – dispels any likelihood of confusion among the purchasing public as to whether Feyonce was sponsored by or affiliated with Beyoncé. KNOWLES-CARTER v. FEYONCE, INC., SDNY (No. 16-CV-2532 (AJN)) Order, September 30, 2018.

The punster might argue that the nature of the pun is in altering an original, and that the public will understand the pun does not suggest that Feyonce is affiliated with Beyoncé. If Feyonce’s business was clearly not related to Beyoncé, a pun or parody defense might work, as it did for Haute Diggity Dog, which successfully defended its use of the mark CHEWY VITTON for dog chew toys against challenge by Louis Vuitton Malletier S.A. (Louis Vuitton Malletier v. Haute Diggity Dog, 507 F. 3d 252 (4th Cir. 2007). However, Beyoncé is well known to sing about romance, so in the end, the name ‘Feyonce’ might end up being the Best Thing (Feyonce) Never Had.

Frederick Spaeth

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