John Oliver Takes `Drumpf’ Joke All The Way to Trademark Office

  • Comedian John Oliver trademarks spoof on billionaire's name
  • Says it is Republican front-runner's ancestral family moniker

Donald Trump has trademarked “Success by Trump” cologne, the “Donald J. Trump Signature Collection” for luggage and shoe-shine kits, and he even held one for “Trump Steaks” until 2014.

But comedian John Oliver may beat the real-estate mogul to the punch on another trademark: “Drumpf.”

Oliver says it’s the Republican presidential front-runner’s ancestral family name and he’s waging a social-media campaign to make people use it. Oliver set up the website, where he sells the “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hats, which are on backorder. It also offers a Chrome browser extension to replace all instances of the word “Trump” with “Drumpf” in a news feed.

Oliver filed a trademark application Feb. 26 for “Drumpf,” and it will take about four to five months before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues a preliminary decision, said Howard Shire, a partner with Kenyon & Kenyon in New York, who filed the application for “Drumpf.”

If Trump wants to object, he’s going to have to acknowledge that it’s his ancestral family name and argue that it creates confusion for the public or harms his businesses.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

200 Trademarks

The first hurdle for Oliver in obtaining the trademark is to show that the word “Drumpf” isn’t just a surname, but is connected to something in commerce. In keeping with that, he incorporated Drumpf Industries LLC in Delaware to file the application, and provided notice that there is an intent to use the brand name.

It’s the only application with the word “Drumpf.” There are more than 200 live applications or registered trademarks with the word “Trump” in them, including some by people other than the candidate, including “Trumpocalypse” and “Trump Against the World.”

The Trump name, all by itself and often with a heraldic design, is owned by the candidate and real estate developer for everything needed to stock a high priced hotel -- limousine services, greeting cards, wood floor tiles, toothbrush holders, jewelry, toy cars, teas, vodka, computer games, wastepaper baskets, candles, chairs, lamps, dress shirts and spring water.

Acquired Distinctiveness

He’s able to trademark the “Trump” name because it’s not just seen as a surname, said James McCarthy, a trademark lawyer with McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert and Berghoff in Chicago.

“Trump would argue that he’s acquired distinctiveness, that people don’t think of it as someone’s last name -- people associate it with me and my brand,” McCarthy said.

That’s why Oliver wants to promote the Drumpf name. He said that the word “Trump” has developed a connotation of rich or successful in the minds of many Americans, and has become the “cornerstone of his brand.”

“If only there were a way to uncouple that magical word from the man he really is,” Oliver said on his HBO show. “Drumpf is much less magical.”

There’s nothing wrong with the name, and to make fun of it can be considered xenophobic. Still, the “pf” combination can be tough for English-speaking tongues, and Oliver turned it into a joke during a Feb. 28 tirade.

Product Origin

Trademark law is based on the concept of identifying the origin of a product so customers aren’t confused as to where it came from. That’s why you can have, for instance, Delta Air Lines Inc. and Delta faucets -- consumers wouldn’t think the airline company has gotten into the home renovation business.

There’s some debate as to when the Drumpf name became Trump -- the U.K.’s Daily Mail dated it to Donald Trump’s “tax-dodging migrant grandpa,” but others have reported it was as long ago as the 17th century.

You can trademark your own name, if it’s linked to a good or service -- Trump’s daughter Ivanka and wife Melania have registered trademarks for swimwear and cosmetics, respectively. His ex-wife, Ivana, owns a trademark for an online retail store.

You can even trademark someone else’s name, as long as you have their permission. Whether Trump would acknowledge the Drumpf connection to object to the application is debatable.

“I hate to predict what someone like him would say,” Shire said.

Consumer Confusion

Trump could argue that consumers would be confused or, even more critically, that it lessens the value of his brand.

“He has a famous-enough mark that he could argue it’s diluting the strength of the brand,” McCarthy said. “There’s probably nothing more John Oliver would like than to be sued by Donald Trump.”

A key point in Oliver’s defense is the fact that he’s a known comedian. A politician can’t object to parodies or satire on their campaigns. It’s no different for trademarks -- it’s a protected form of speech, much like song parodies or taking images of Barbie in a blender to make political statements.

Other people have “Trump” related trademarks too, including a California company’s “Ring Trump Tones,” the Trump Mediaeval typeface owned by Allied Corp., and the Veggie Trumps card game owned by a British man.

Ludwig Schokolade GmbH, a German company owns the trademark Trumpf for candy, chewing gum and chocolate and nougat spreads. It notes that the English translation of the word is Trump.

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