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Protecting the Palin Brand: Sarah and Bristol Go for Trademark Status

4 years ago
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Sarah Palin has become an industry. The former Alaskan governor has had books deals, starred in a reality television show and set up a political PAC that raised $3.5 million last year. Through midterm election endorsements, broadcast on her 2.7 million-fan Facebook page or via her 400,000 follower Twitter feed, Palin has cemented alliances to new GOP governors such as South Carolina's Nikki Haley and various members of Congress.

But Palin is more than just a former mayor, governor, vice presidential candidate and political force. She has catapulted over most politicians to a status of entertainment icon. She has become a brand -- and she's trying to protect it by trademarking her name.

The Palin brand is so valuable, that other family members are in on it. Sarah Palin's 20-year-old daughter, Bristol, is a well-compensated spokeswomen on sexual abstinence for the Candie's Foundation, has become a reality star in her own right on "Dancing with the Stars" and may land a job as a radio show host in Arizona.

And these savvy women are taking all the prudent steps a brand holder does to protect an asset. In the last several months, Politics Daily has learned that the Palin family lawyer, Alaska attorney Thomas Van Flein, has filed applications to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark "Sarah Palin®" and "Bristol Palin®."

According to patent office application (serial # 85170226), Van Flein registered for a trademark of "Sarah Palin" on Nov. 5, 2010 -- three days after the midterm elections. The government trademark examining attorney has "found no conflicting marks that would bar registration." In other words, nobody else had already taken the proposed trademark.
A "Bristol Palin" application (serial #85130638) was filed on Sept. 15, 2010. Bristol Palin's stint with "Dancing With the Stars" premiered on Sept. 20.

Celebrities often trademark their names to protect their image or brand from others who might try to cash in on their likeness or use their name in an inappropriate way.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, the Palin applications are still active, but not without problems.

For Sarah Palin's application, there are two classes of commercial service for which her name would be a registered trademark. One is for "information about political elections" and "providing a website featuring information about political issues." The second is for "educational and entertainment services ... providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values."

The "Bristol Palin" application is for "educational and entertainment services, namely, providing motivational speaking services in the field of life choices."

Both applications were assigned to the same examining attorney, Karen K. Bush. Bush is no stranger to trademark applications with a political slant. The patent attorney ruled in 2007 that a man could not file a trademark application on the name Obama bin Laden.

The current status on the Sarah Palin application indicates the patent office wants more information -- specifically, it seems the application is missing Sarah Palin's written consent to have her name trademarked. It is not known whether that issue has been cleared up.

Palin's application also had other issues. When someone applies for a trademark, the patent office wants an example of how his or her name has been used for a commercial purpose. Examples include "signs, photographs, brochures, website printouts or advertisements" that show the proposed trademark "used in the actual sale or advertising of the services." The samples submitted with Sarah's form were a copy of a Fox News Channel webpage dated Jan. 11, 2010 featuring a story with the headline "Palin to Join Fox News as Contributor," and a PDF file of a screen shot from the Washington Speakers Bureau website containing the former Alaska governor's biography plus another screen shot of her Facebook profile.

Bush, the examining attorney, wrote that the examples were insufficient and did not show any commercial use connected to political elections. Palin was asked to send another example.

Bush also had questions regarding the initial date -- 1996 -- that Palin said she first used her name for a commercial purpose. That year, Palin served as a member of the Wasilla City Council and in October 1996 was elected mayor. The query suggests the patent examiner would like Sarah Palin to prove she was using her name at that time in a commercial capacity in regard to "political election information and providing a website about political issues."

Bush did rule that that the examples submitted for "educational and entertainment services and motivational speaking" were acceptable.

The file is still pending, and Palin and her attorney were given six months to respond. So far, according to a spokeswoman at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, if her attorney has responded, the letter has not been uploaded to the government website. Van Flein did not return calls or e-mails for this story.

Bristol Palin's application has similar problems as her mother's. It wasn't signed and didn't show her proposed trademark used in a commercial context. She must file examples that demonstrate how "Bristol Palin" is used in the actual sale or advertising of her "motivational speaking services in the field of life choices," according to Bush's letter to Van Flein.

Politicians seldom trademark their name but they might do so to prevent others from using it, for example, to sell shoddy, unapproved merchandise or "official" candidate memorabilia. A search for other political figures such as President Barack Obama and potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney do not show any pending trademark applications. It is a rarity, say trademark attorneys, for political figures to file such forms.

The Palins are facing a long road in the effort to trademark their names. "Generally one can trademark one's name," said Jeffrey S. Kravitz, a Los Angeles-based intellectual property attorney. "But, it is not easy."
Filed Under: Woman Up, Sarah Palin

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