Cases and issues relating to personality and image rights in connection with trademark law have always intrigued me. For one, it raises the question of whether a person can register their name as a trademark solely on the ground that they are a celebrity having brand value and that their reputation is likely be injured otherwise. Unless of course they are using their name for the purpose of sale of goods and providing any services. An example that strikes me is that of Sachin Tendulkar who has registered his name as a trademark and uses it on the goods sold by his company!

For those who are trying to infer a conclusion from what I just said, I’m of the opinion based on  logical reasoning (and I’m no authority) that trademark law provides protection by way of its definition under the Act when the same is being used on goods and services and not merely to protect the brand value of a person.

There have been several instances when celebrities have registered their names as trademarks under various classes. This list isn’t as long as the one of celebrities in the United States but it is definitely noteworthy! In addition to using them on goods or services, it also acts as a pre-emptive action whereby the celebrity can stop someone from exploiting their brand value or personality in general for commercial gain. While filing a trademark application in India if you use the online filing system, it offers you the choice of selecting the type of trademark (word, label, packaging etc.) and it even offers you the option of filing the trademark under the category of a “celebrity trademark”.

I recently came across a product that I was quite amused by – Amma’s Kitchen Banana Chips, more because of the trade name ‘Amma’. The first question that I asked myself, was if it was too generic to be a trademark (Amma means Mother!) and then considered the possibilities of usage and acquired distinctiveness as factors to persuade the Registry to granting a trademark. When I conducted a search, I found out that Gits Food Products Pvt. Ltd. have the trademark ‘Amma’s Kitchen’ registered in India under Class 29 and 30. Surprisingly, a number of AMMAs are registered under these two classes which predominantly deal with food and food related products.

The next thing that came to my mind was whether our very own Amma (Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) can actually get her self-styled name registered as a trademark. I don’t say this only because she is a powerful and well recognized politician but because of the initiatives she has started under her popular alias Amma. For the uninitiated,  the Tamil Nadu government, (you’ll be surprised to know) has been providing food at reasonable rates in canteens called as Amma Unavagam and selling water bottles and salt under the name of AMMA and oh, they have a photograph of her too!

Knowing that this initiative by Amma is actually getting a lot of attention, it is possible that people may sell products under this name and pass them off as products sold by the government. In the case of popular products and such a mass initiative as in the instant case, one cannot rule out that possibility. Trademark protection goes a long way, especially when we look at it from the point of view of enforcement of rights. So let’s wait and watch if Amma actually joins the bandwagon of celebrities who have a trademark to their name. In this case, it would be a self-styled name which has acquired distinctiveness and secondary meaning because of usage across the nation!

This article has been authored by Nikita, an IP Law practitioner.