- Published: 08 January 2019 08 January 2019
By Melissa A. McCurdy, Partner, Standley Law Group LLP
A common misconception regarding U.S. trademark law is that a person has a natural right to use his or her family name (surname) in conjunction with offering goods or services in commerce. The general rule is that surnames cannot be registered as trademarks. See Lanham Act, Section 2(e)(4). However, this rule can be overcome. To determine whether a surname should be federally registered as a trademark, and hence protectable as such, the U.S. Trademark Office looks at various factors to determine whether the mark will be perceived as predominantly a “surname”, including whether the proposed mark is a common or a rare surname, the latter favoring registration, and whether the proposed mark has any other recognized meanings other than a surname (if yes, this tips in favor of registration).