A legal expert weighs in on how the Kardashians might have the upper hand with their soon-to-be-sister-in-law
The ties that bind have become taut.
According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, the Kardashian siblings’ companies are legally opposing soon-to-be- sister-in-law Blac Chyna‘s attempt to trademark her presumptive married name, Angela Renée Kardashian.
Kim, Khloé and Kourtney Kardashian already have an up-and-down relationship with brother Rob Kardashian‘s fiancée (whose legal name is Angela Renée White). And now the sisters’ companies have alleged they’ll “suffer damage including irreparable injury to their reputation and goodwill” if Chyna takes the Kardashian name to legally align herself (and her brand) with Rob and their infant daughter Dream.
But why exactly is it in Chyna’s interest to register a trademark? And how does the Rob & Chyna star’s move to legally change her name impact the sisters’ chances at blocking her? PEOPLE talked with two legal expert to break it all down.
Why would someone want to trademark their name?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”
Larry Zerner, a Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer specializing in trademark litigation, tells PEOPLE that there are numerous benefits to trademarking a name.
“A lot of name trademarks are worth a lot of money. For example, Martha Stewart is trademarked and Calvin Klein – those are all names of people, that’s the brand,” he says. “The purpose of the trademark is to tell the consumer that the source of the goods is what it is.”
By registering for a trademark, Zerner explains, you’re assuring consumers that the product they’re using or buying does, in fact, come from you.
Zerner says that a filing fee for a federal trademark is low, and ranges between $225 and $325 dollars. A state trademark in California is $70.
What are the benefits?
By registering a trademark, one can effectively prevent anyone from using a name that might be confusingly similar to their own.
“The test isn’t whether the two trademarks are identical,” Zerner specifies. “The test is whether the new trademark is confusingly similar to the existing trademark.”
For example, a restaurant attempting to name their business Burger Queen might be blocked for its similarity to the trademarked chain of fast food eateries Burger King.
In addition, benefits include that “you get certain presumptions if you have to sue anyone,” Zerner says. “People associate your name with your brand — you don’t have to prove that.”
“There’s also certain monetary benefits you can get if you have a registered trademark as opposed to if you don’t have a registered trademark,” he adds.
Can you be stopped from trademarking your legal name?
Even after Rob and Chyna tie the knot and she legally takes his last name, the 28-year-old’s trademark attempt can still be blocked.
Zerner says that just because a name is legally yours doesn’t mean one automatically has the right to trademark it, as many people could share the moniker.
“To go back to my Martha Stewart analogy, if someone wanted to register ‘Martha Stewart’ they would probably get opposed,” he says. “If someone wants to register ‘Angela Stewart’ that might be okay. Of course, Stewart is a much more common name than Kardashian so the analogy is not perfect.”
Omid Khalifeh, an attorney specializing in intellectual property and founder of the Omni Legal Group in Los Angeles, tells PEOPLE, however, that it does give you a little advantage.
“But just because you have that advantage doesn’t mean there aren’t other objections which can be raised,” he notes.
RELATED VIDEO: Blac Chyna Insider Defends Against Kardashians’ Claim She’ll Hurt Their Brand by Using ‘Angela Kardashian’
What does it take to get a trademark approved?
“It’s not terribly difficult,” explains Zerner. “For a federal trademark, you have to prove that you’re using the trademark in interstate commerce.”
This means that the trademark is required to be used between one state and another state, or one state and another country. The trademark is also limited to the goods and services it was originally listed with. (Current trademarks can be searched on the USPTO website.)
Now that an opposition has been filed, what happens next with Chyna’s trademark request?
“You file the mark, and about six months later the trademark office will review and will say, ‘Okay it’s fine, I’m moving it on,’ ” Zerner explains. “And then it gets published in what’s called the Trademark Official Gazette. It’s like public notice.”
What follows is a 30-day period where anyone who thinks they might be harmed by the trademark can file an opposition. Now that the opposition from the Kardashians has been filed, Zerner says Chyna has a certain amount of days to answer.
Ultimately, the court will decide if Chyna’s trademark request is confusingly similar or not.
If the trademark is denied, can Chyna ever try again?
“In theory she could, but unless the circumstances of the Kardashians’ fame changes, it’s unlikely,” says Zerner.
He explains, “The Kardashians are saying that they have a number of very strong trademarks for their name and if Blac Chyna is allowed to register ‘Angela Renée Kardashian’ then people will think that she is associated with the Kardashian family — in a business way, not just in a family way.”
Khalifeh uses Apple an example, saying it would be problematic for “another company who also makes computers [to] use that term in conjunction with the goods that are specified in the application — which are, computers. However, a farmer can still refer to their fruits as an apple and they won’t be infringing on Apple’s trademark, because, again, the registration says computers are what are covered under this particular mark.”
Zerner echoes that “one of the issues is that Blac Chyna is trying to obtain a trademark for the same services that the Kardashians already have a trademark. If she was trying to register Angela Renée Kardashian as a ‘plumbing service’ then the Kardashians couldn’t really complain because no one is going to confuse a plumber with the Kardashians.”
Chyna’s own lawyer Walter Mosley spoke to PEOPLE on her behalf Wednesday, calling the filing a “shock.”
“I filed this trademark with the utmost confidence that it would not be opposed at all,” he said. And, while Mosley acknowledges both the Kardashians’ and Chyna’s reasons for being “very protective of our marks,” he predicted that “this is going to be a clear case win [for us] because it’s actually her name, it’s not a poaching.”
He continued, “I’m hoping that it’s just a big misunderstanding but I’m just proceeding as if it’s not and am going to do the best work I can for my client.”