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Blog 21 Sep 2016

A (sur)name as trademark

Many famous trademarks are named after their founders. Take Phillips, Fokker and Albert Heijn, for example: all people’s names which have become strong trademarks. Want to register a surname as trademark?

Then take the following into consideration:

Distinctive character

In general, names can be registered as a trademark as long as the name has a distinctive character. Thus the name ‘Baker’ for bakeries would not be accepted, although it would be a suitable trademark for bicycles. When considering whether a name has a distinctive character, it is not necessary to take into account how many people have that name, the number of companies operating in the sector, or the extent to which it is usual to use family names in the sector.

Right to use own name

Once a name has been registered as a trademark, this can restrict other bearers of the name from using it as a trademark name. For example, someone called Philips may not start a bulb trademark under this name. However, the name may be used on a business card. Everyone is entitled to use his or her own (sur)name, even if the name is registered as a trademark. But remember, when using a name which is registered as a trademark, the impression may not be given that there is a commercial connection between the user of that name and the trademark holder.


Using your own name as trademark can also have disadvantages. For example, the sale of the trademark may have consequences for the further use of the name. Although agreements may be reached on this, the person who gave his name to the trademark may no longer use this name as a trademark. The fact that this can have annoying consequences was experienced by John McAfee, the founder of the successful virus scanner trademark of the same name. After the trademark was sold to Intel, Intel objected to a new IT-related company that McAfee wanted to start under his own surname. Intel went to court in the US to prevent McAfee linking his name to the new company.