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Robyn v. Robin: Rihanna and DC Comics

Famous popstar Rihanna is continuously expanding her careers.

After her debut in 2005, Rihanna has topped music charts of 13 countries with “Umbrella” and sold more than 8 million albums. Since then, she has established her status as the queen of pop by making a string of hits. She also launched an acting career in 2006 and starred in the latest film “Ocean’s 8”.

However, her challenge doesn’t stop here. Since she made her foray into the fashion world by teaming up with Armani, she has unveiled her collaborated lines of PUMA as a creative director for female sportswear and footwear. More recently, Rihanna also made her way into the beauty industry by launching her own cosmetics brand “Fenty Beauty by Rihanna” using her last name.

If we look at the database from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), she seems to continuously expand her careers. Her real name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty, and Roraj Trade LLC handles her intellectual property rights.

In 2014, Rihanna filed a trademark application for her first name “Robyn” with the aim of creating an online non-downloadable magazine, but her plan was put on hold in the final procedure of trademark examination due to DC Comics.

DC Comics submitted a Notice of Opposition to the trademark registration. There is a period in which any third-party with a real interest in the proceeding can oppose the trademark application during the final process of trademark registration.

This is to protect existing trademark owners by allowing them to file oppositions to USPTO and attempt to stop similar trademarks from being registered. Even though it is possible to file a Petition to Cancel after a trademark is registered, it is more cost-efficient to stop a similar trademark before registration. This is why many companies use trademark monitoring services to find any newly filed trademark applications that may infringe on their marks. DC Comics – which has held a trademark for “Robin” – argued that Rihanna’s first name (Robyn) and the name of Batman’s sidekick (Robin) are virtually identical and consumers are likely to be confused.

DC Comics has published Batman comics since the 1930s, and Robin – Batman’s loyal sidekick – has become a popular character that can be seen not only in movies but also in goods since his first debut in the 1940s.

The company argued that it is unfair to register a trademark that is similar to the character’s name Robin both in sound, alphabetical order, and commercial impression while emphasizing that Rihanna was aware of DC Comics’ trademark rights. The company also said that the similarity in the names would cause confusion for consumers since there is a high possibility of confusing goods and services provided by Rihanna’s Robyn and those provided by DC Comics.

The company was also concerned that Rihanna’s attempt to register the mark would undermine DC Comics’ brand distinctiveness. The company pointed out that Rihanna could benefit from the confusion by taking advantage of the character and its popularity that the company has put tremendous efforts to build for decades.

The legal battle between the superstar and giant company drew much attention from the public and the majority of Internet users said that the arguments of DC Comics were unreasonable. It’s because a lot of people already knew that Rihanna’s first name and the character’s name are spelled differently, so there is little chance that people might confuse the two names. Moreover, there were wonders why the global superstar had to take advantage of the character’s popularity to expand her brand. Considering that Rihanna eventually registered her mark, USPTO seems to agree with this logic.

Meanwhile, this was not the first time that Rihanna was embroiled in controversy due to trademark registration. As a new trademark for “FENTY ESTATES WINE AND SPIRITS COMPANY” was filed in 2017, many immediately assumed that Rihanna was behind the new brand and she was about to jump into the liquor business.

However, the new filing was made by JGC GLOBAL, not Rihanna’s Roraj Trade LLC, and people started paying attention to how Rihanna would respond to this newly filed mark. Theoretically, there was no problem that the trademark filed by JGC GLOBAL couldn’t be registered. It’s because there was only one trademark that included the word “Fenty” at that time and the mark was held by an interior design company. It means that there was no collusion since the business sectors were different.

In the end, however, the trademark for FENTY ESTATES WINE AND SPIRITS COMPANY was not registered because the applicant did not submit all necessary documents that were needed during the examination process. One can only imagine whether Rihanna had intervened in the registration process or not.

Hayoon Kane