Oh Na Na What’s My Name?: Rihanna Sues Father for Trademark Misuse of “Fenty” SurnameJanuary 21, 2019

Robyn Rihanna Fenty (“Rihanna”) has filed a lawsuit against her father, Ronald Fenty, over the use of the name “Fenty.” Ronald Fenty uses the family surname in his company Fenty Entertainment, a company which recruits artistic talent and also develops television programs, motion pictures, and record producing. Over the last several years Rihanna has developed her label via Fenty cosmetics (Fenty Beauty), lingerie (Savage X Fenty), and other commercial endeavors.

Rihanna is suing for false designation of origin, false advertising and invasion of her privacy and publicity rights. Specifically, Rihanna asserts that her father’s actions irreparably damaged her brand. Rihanna alleges that her father and his partner, Moses Perkins, falsely represented their company’s affiliation with her. The suit asserts that Ronald Fenty “does not have, and never has had, authority to act on Rihanna’s behalf, nor has he ever been authorized to use her name, intellectual property or publicity rights.” Among the actions taken without Rihanna’s permission include Fenty and Perkins allegedly attempting to negotiate a series of 15 shows in Latin America, and other shows in Las Vegas and Las Angeles without her permission.

Trademark infringement suits over surnames are typically the result of two situations: disputes over the use of a family name by a junior user, or common surnames being used by two different companies in similar industries. It can be difficult to successfully register a family surname as a trademark, and even when a family name is registered it is difficult to stop others from using it because the law generally favors the right of a person to use their name as a source identifier of good/services. However, if a surname has “acquired distinctiveness” and/or “secondary meaning,” such that it is perceived by the public as a recognizable source identifier, it is possible to exclude others from using the name. For example, names such as Disney, Gucci, and Ford are registered trademarks.

In this case, Rihanna seeks to stop Fenty and Perkins from using her name and the Fenty brand, and she is further seeking damages and attorney’s fees. To be successful, Rihanna will need significant evidence that her “Fenty” brand is distinctive and identifiable by the public as associated with Rihanna.

Sarah Luth is an Associate Attorney in the Biotechnology & Chemical Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit www.ipmvs.com or contact Sarah directly via email at sarah.luth@ipmvs.com.

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