OMG! Yoko Ono sues plucky young singer named Lennon to stop using her first name!

On her Myspace blog, singer Lennon Murphy writes, Getting Sued by Yoko, “Yesterday I received notice that Yoko Ono had filed a law suit against me, asking for a cancellation of the trademark that I own for the name “Lennon.” This could very well mean the career that I have worked so hard at, the one you all have believed in, may come to an end.”
Not surprisingly, this was picked up in the mainstream music press.
NME, “Yoko Ono sues singer for being called Lennon”
Rolling Stone: “Yoko Ono is suing Lennon Murphy, lead singer of the band Lennon, for intentionally exploiting the name of her deceased husband, John Lennon.”
Not exactly. Ono has not sued Murphy to prevent Murphy from performing under the name LENNON. Ono seeks to cancel Murphy’s federal registration of the mark LENNON by filing a Petition for Cancellation with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Ono is not suing Murphy to prevent Murphy from performing music as LENNON (in this filing.)
What Ono seeks to deny Murphy of is the exclusive right to perform and sell music under the name LENNON. Ono is not attempting to prevent Murphy from performing and engaging in commerce under the name LENNON, but to prevent Murphy from preventing other Lennons to use the name in commerce.
Murphy’s application was initially refused under §2(e)(4) of the Lanham Act for being “primarily merely a surname.” After the application was denied on the basis of it being merely a surname, Murphy’s attorneys petitioned that the name LENNON had acquired secondary meaning. One of the ways in which a mark can acquire secondary meaning is through use in commerce for five years (in Murphy’s case, starting in 1997). Murphy was granted Federal trademark registration #2676604 in 2003.
Ono’s cancellation petition argues that if there is any secondary meaning in the LENNON mark relating to pop music, that it is to John’s music that it refers. If an average consumer goes to a music store and sees a album bearing the mark LENNON, is that consumer more likely to associate that album with Lennon Murphy than John Lennon, Julian Lennon, Sean Lennon or anyone else in the world named Lennon?
If she wins this action, Ono will have simply broken up Murphy and her trademark registration. If Ono actually seeks to prevent Murphy from performing and recording under the name LENNON, that is a different complaint in a different court.
And it does not seem like Ono would do that. Boing Boing posts a letter, Yoko Ono: No, I’m not suing Lennon Murphy over “Lennon.”