The search for information surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, by George Zimmerman on February 26 has made an enormous impact on American society over the past several weeks, and now the case has made its way to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
On March 21, Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton filed trademark applications for “I am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon.” The phrases have been used by Martin’s supporters, many of whom believe Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense is not believable and that he should be arrested.
Fulton’s attorney has stated that the requests were made in order to prevent others from exploiting her son’s name — and not for commercial gain. One of the family’s lawyers, Kimra Major-Morris, gave the example of someone falsely using Trayvon’s name to raise funds for the family. Indeed, the family has stated that it intends to begin a foundation honoring Trayvon and wants to make sure they have the legal trademark protections to do so.
Another lawyer for the family, Benjamin Crump, is quoted as saying, “There are so many people out there doing things with Trayvon’s name and some inappropriate people, so without that trademark they did not have the right to tell them to cease and desist.”
The application includes the use of the phrases on CDs, DVDs, and other digital products — but doesn’t mention apparel. This could seem to be a major oversight in the protection sought particularly in light of the role the infamous “hoodie” has taken on in this case thanks to Geraldo Rivera, who said, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Rivera has since apologized to Martin’s parents.
However, in reality, according to Major-Morris, the family isn’t particularly concerned with stopping those types of activities, such as the production of t-shirts and hoodies, that could actually help their cause.
And it seems the first potential Trayvon Martin hoodie manufacturer has already filed a trademark application. On March 23, Marcus Singletary of Los Angeles has filed a request to trademark the phrase “Justice for Trayvon” for use on “hooded sweatshirts.”
The USPTO is not likely to grant a trademark request of a person’s name when the trademark seeker can show no relationship to that person, but remember a trademark only gives someone the option of enforcing ownership rights; if Martin’s mother is granted the trademark for “Justice for Trayvon,” and she doesn’t mind if Singletary produces hooded sweatshirts with the phrase on them, there would be no legal problem for Singletary in doing so.
Should anyone other than Trayvon Martin’s parents be able to use his name, given the national scope of this case and others’ arguable first-amendment interests in its outcome?