Why Using "Skywalker" In Your Name is Not Trademark Infringement [e78]

August 8, 2014

Nasir and Matt get into the story about a woman being accused of trademark infringement after changing her middle name to “Skywalker.” They also answer the question, “What is the agent for service of process and who can I use for my business?”

Full Podcast Transcript

NASIR: Welcome to Legally Sound Smart Business.
This is Nasir Pasha.

MATT: And this is Matt Staub.

NASIR: Coming from a far, far away galaxy and this is our podcast where we cover business legal news and answer some of your business legal questions that you, the listener, can send in to ask@legallysoundsmartbusiness.com.

MATT: You’re really amped up for this episode. Remember you mentioned on a previous episode – I can’t remember which one you were – if you were Star Wars or Star Trek.

NASIR: Star Wars, for sure.

MATT: Star Wars, for sure?

NASIR: Well, honestly, I just never watched Star Trek so I can’t even really judge but yeah.

MATT: Yeah. Well, you’re going to like the story that we have today and maybe you’re going to do this, too.

NASIR: Great! I’m excited!

MATT: It’s going to be some advice for you because I know you’ve mentioned before wanting to change your middle name.

NASIR: That’s true.

MATT: This is going to be your legal advice on how to do it correctly.
So, this is a weird story but there’s this woman in Europe, in the UK, and she legally changed her name, her middle name, to Skywalker. You know, whatever, you can change your name, not that big a deal, you would think. She’d changed a bunch of official documents, no problems. I’m sure other people have the name “Skywalker” maybe as a middle name because people that really love Star Wars, they can see that happening.
Anyways, on her passport, apparently, there was an issue because they said the name Skywalker actually infringes on a trademark that I would assume that George Lucas or whatever company runs the…

NASIR: George Lucas, he did sell some of the rights to create the movies to Disney which they’re creating the other ones, but I still think he retains most of the rights, if I recall, but I could be wrong.

MATT: So, basically, they were saying, “Hey, this infringes on a trademark, you can’t use this and this isn’t going to work.” So, long story short, she’s going to be able to get around it so far with some weird process of she’d have to submit a new form with her old signature, blah blah blah. But this can’t be the first time that someone has changed their middle name to this – or I can definitely see two parents that are obsessed with Star Wars making “Skywalker” a kid’s middle name, right? I don’t think this is the first occurrence.

NASIR: Exactly, and I find it very strange and I think it’s because she changed her name to that. Also, this is in the UK so it’s hard to really know what’s going on here, but it does show you the power of trademarks and copyright. You know, once you have it and you establish it and you enforce it, you have the home office in the UK of passports enforcing a law that they don’t even need to enforce necessarily. It doesn’t make any sense but it shows you that power.

MATT: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I mean, you wouldn’t even think this would be an issue, and I’m sure she obviously didn’t because she might have thought twice about it. But there is a lot of power. It’s like they say; it’s not about getting the trademark or whatever piece of intellectual property. It’s all about the defense. I mean, that’s where the power comes. The story doesn’t even say whether George Lucas or Disney even cared.

NASIR: No, I don’t think so.

MATT: I don’t see why they would care. If anything, she’s just appreciating their work. They stopped it before it could even get to that point. It’s just so weird. Like, Skywalker, I’m sure there’s people with other middle names that are trademarked as well. I don’t see what the problem is.

NASIR: And I can’t point to any specific case specifically but I’d be very surprised if some court found trademark infringement for someone’s actual legal name. It makes no sense. Even if they made the argument that this – what’s her name? Laura Skywalker? Even if she is somehow telling everyone that she’s a Jedi and that she’s trained in the arts of The Force and so forth, if somehow she creates some kind of likelihood of confusion between her and the actual Skywalker, then maybe there may be infringement, but how ridiculous is that argument for anyone to make, you know?

MATT: That’s definitely true. No judge is going to say there’s any sort of infringement going on here. It’s just really weird. The only problem with it is the passport. She got her driver’s license, bank cards, everything else. There were no questions asked.

NASIR: And it’s a middle name, too. It doesn’t even matter. Like, if it was Luke Skywalker, at least it’s a better argument, but it wasn’t even that.

MATT: So, we talked about this once on the podcast but there’s newer commercials out so that’s what made me think of it, all the people that are named Ronald McDonald that are trying the Taco Bell stuff.

NASIR: Yeah, that’s a good point.

MATT: McDonald’s, if they’re upset about these commercials, are they going to go after all these people for having that name, saying they’re infringing on it and they can’t use their name. Like, that’s not going to work.

NASIR: Yeah. So, whatever red tape administrator said that this is infringement, and I see all these other blog articles that are saying the same thing, it doesn’t make any sense, obviously.

MATT: It was weird how you said you were going to change your name – Nasir Mountain Dew Pasha. I just thought that was questionable but I wouldn’t know why you would choose such a weird middle name.

NASIR: Well, I just like Mountain Dew. I don’t know. There’s no other reason, you know.

MATT: It is what it is.

NASIR: Actually, I haven’t had Mountain Dew in a long time, but I do remember – do they still have Code Red? Because I used to like that as well in college.

MATT: I used to like Code Red as well. The first time they came out with the… there was like an orange one that came out briefly. The first time that came out, I was just waiting for it for so long and it came out and I went to the store and bought a 2-liter of it and just drank and it wasn’t even cold. It was just sitting on the shelf. So, I was drinking a warm 2-liter and then I had to go to tennis practice when it was hot out.

NASIR: Oh, no.

MATT: And I was just cramping up the whole time because I just chugged basically a liter of warm Mountain Dew – not the best thing if you want to go out and try to do any sort of physical activity.

NASIR: I stopped drinking it because I felt like I was drinking toxic waste – not that I’m saying it’s toxic waste. It was “like toxic waste.”

MATT: The color is enough for you. What are the things colored like that?

NASIR: Yeah, there’s nothing natural in the world that’s that color, for sure, that you can drink especially.

MATT: Yeah, other than the logo from the New Jersey highway that we talked about last week.

NASIR: Yeah, that’s toxic, for sure.

NASIR: All right, let’s get to our question for the day from… oh, we don’t know what state. How are we going to answer this?

MATT: I can do California and you can do all the other 49 states.

NASIR: Okay. I’m pretty sure this applies in every state anyway but let’s go to it. Let’s see.

MATT: “So, what is the agent for service of process and who can I use for my business?”
Every time I talk to people about it, I want say maybe a quarter of the time, people aren’t even aware of this or don’t even know what it is or it’s something they’ve never even thought about. I mean, I think everyone knows what it is, they just haven’t thought of it, known the official legal context. So, if someone wants to sue your business, they have to serve the summons and the complaint to this agent for service of process. If someone wants to sue you individually, they’ll deliver the papers to you – they serve the papers to you. For the business, there needs to be somebody appointed to accept those papers. So, that’s what the agent is.
Now, who can be the agent for your business? You know, it can be an individual or it can be a company that’s registered to be an agent for service of process. It can’t be your business itself. It can be an individual within the business – or like I said, a company that’s registered to accept the service – and you can find a list – at least in California and I assume the other states, you can find a list of those pretty easily.

NASIR: And, oftentimes, what we often recommend is just the individual of the actual business owner. The only reason is because you want that kind of connected to you. Unless you pay for some other person to do so to notify you of getting a lawsuit which is what most big corporations do, they actually hire a third-party to do so. But, if you’ve got a small business, just make it yourself as an individual is perfectly fine. Make sure that you put in a street address, for example. Matt gave California law and it’s pretty much the same in every other states except there are some states that allow you, especially if you are a foreign entity, you’re operating outside the state, you can actually designate the Secretary of State – or, in some cases, they require you to designate the Secretary of State – as an agent for service of process in the sense that, if you’re a company that’s outside the state, they can actually serve the Secretary of State in lieu of serving you as a company. I don’t understand the purpose of all this because, when you form an entity – whether it’s a corporation, LLC, or what-have-you, some other entity – you are creating a corporate veil – a shield of liability, so to speak, between you as an individual and the company. And so, in having that protection, they still need to actually identify some individual since a corporation or LLC has its own legal entity, we need to be able to find somebody to actually give a summons or a complaint to to personally serve them; otherwise, it would be ambiguous because then you can just give any employee or any person the papers and it may not be effectually a given notice. So, that’s the purpose of it all.

MATT: You know, you said “if it’s just one person, better just you be it.” But, sometimes, people want to maintain that level of privacy.

NASIR: Yeah, that’s true.

MATT: So, if that’s your concern, it’s pretty cheap just to have one of these registered or designated companies just be your agent.

NASIR: Yeah, what’s the lowest we’ve seen? $50.00? $60.00 a year or something? Maybe even less, actually.

MATT: I’ll do it for $3.00 a year.

NASIR: Oh, that’ll add up after thirty years. But, yeah, that’s an option.
Also, when it comes to privacy, it also depends. Like, some states, it may not even matter because you may have to, like, in an LLC, in certain states, you have to actually specify who are the members or managers in your state filing and, when you do that, you have to also put your mailing address so you don’t really have privacy. So, different states are more private than others. Again, you can always put your business address still. You don’t necessarily have to put your home address.

MATT: Yeah.

NASIR: You can put yourself and put your business address on there. I think that’s good practice.

MATT: You don’t want to put your home address. You definitely don’t want that.

NASIR: Yeah, no, you do not want that.

MATT: All right, we definitely answered the question.

NASIR: Yeah, I agree.

MATT: So, success, we did it!

NASIR: Success, we did it! I think that’s the second question we’ve actually answered on this podcast properly.

MATT: Yeah, 78 episodes, two questions correctly answered – 76 unsures.

NASIR: Unsures – still waiting for the result on that.

MATT: The 76, what were the other 76? Probably, “Ah, I don’t know, it depends.”

NASIR: Well, let’s just go over the 76 questions right now then to see.

MATT: Yeah, I don’t even remember. I don’t even remember the ones from this week.

NASIR: Oh, you and me both, pal – you and me both.
All right. Well, thank you for listening and don’t forget to leave a positive five-star, two-thumbs-up, ten out of ten review – where? Just in general. Just, you know, write to your local newspaper and write a review and tell all your friends pretty much. That’s it.

MATT: When I see people on the street, they just give me two thumbs up.

NASIR: Yeah.

MATT: It’s obviously working.

NASIR: All right. Well, thank you for joining us.

MATT: Yeah, keep it sound and keep it smart.

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The Podcast Where Nasir Pasha and Matt Staub cover business in the news with their legal twist and answer business legal questions that you the listener can send it to info@legallysoundsmartbusiness.com.

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Legally Sound Smart Business

A business podcast with a legal twist

Legally Sound Smart Business is a podcast by Pasha Law PC covering different topics in business advice and news with a legal twist with attorneys Nasir Pasha and Matt Staub.
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