Like most people, I was shocked by the news of Prince's passing. I grew up in the '80's, and Prince's music was part of the soundtrack of my youth.
Obviously, Prince leaves behind an enormous musical legacy. He also leaves behind a few trademark lessons.
You may recall that Prince once changed his name to the "Love Symbol" shown above. That was no publicity stunt. In fact, the decision was prompted by legal maneuvering related to a contract dispute with his record label. At the time, Prince appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek and gave the following statement:
The first step I have taken toward the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.
“The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” wasted no time seeking federal trademark protection for the Love Symbol. He obtained four federal trademark registrations:
- U.S. Reg. No. 1,849,644 for entertainment services;
- U.S. Reg. No. 1,871,900 for posters, publications, bumper stickers and stickers;
- U.S. Reg. No. 1,860,429 for clothing; and
- U.S. Reg. No. 1,822,461 for sound recordings and videotapes featuring music and entertainment.
Prince continued using the Love Symbol until his publishing contract with Warner Bros. expired in 2000. After that, he returned to using “Prince” again. He continued using the symbol as a logo, and he even played a Love Symbol-shaped guitar.
The controversy over Prince’s name teaches two important lessons: (1) the failure to protect trademarks from day one can be a huge disaster for a musician (or anyone for that matter); and (2) you need to be sure that you own all the trademarks you are using (or that you are properly licensed).