On February 28, 2016, on the third episode of the third season, comedian John Oliver delivered a 22 minute segment about Donald Trump and his ongoing Presidential Campaign. Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight, is an American late-night talk and news satire television program airing on HBO in the United States, which takes a satirical look at news, politics, and current events on a weekly basis.
In the final portion of his February 28, 2016 segment, John Oliver urged viewers to refer to Donald Trump as “Drumpf”, which is Trump family’s ancestral name. There exists controversy over when the Trump family changed their name from Drumpf to Trump. Gwenda Blair in her biography, “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire” had mentioned that, the name change occurred way back in the 17th century where an ancestor of Donald Trump changed their name from Drumpf to Trump. Other sources have claimed that the name change occurred more recently in the late 19th century when Donald Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Drumpf changed his name to Frederick Trump. Frederick Trump was a German immigrant who would later go on to become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1892.
Further on in the segment, Oliver stated that the name “Drumpf” was a much better representation of Trump’s true nature, and says that if viewers wanted to vote for “the charismatic guy promising to make America great again”, they should “stop and take a moment to imagine how they would feel if they just met a guy named Donald Drumpf”. Subsequently, approximately two days after the show was aired, Oliver incorporated an LLC based in Delaware to file the trademark application for the word “Drumpf” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (hereinafter referred to as ‘USPTO’). The application was filed in Class 41 for “Provision of a website featuring multimedia content”. Additionally, after a month or so, on April 9, after popularizing the slogan, Oliver also filed an application for registration of the slogan “Make Donald Drumpf Again” a play on Donald Trump’s original campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. The following is a tabular representation of the two application –
He further registered the web domain “donaldjdrumpf.com”, selling amongst other things, baseball caps, hoodies, T-Shirts, etc. However, this is not the first occasion that a well-known political figure’s name was utilized in connection with a trademark application. In 2010, the marks OBAMA PAJAMA, OBAMA BAHAMA PAJAMAS, BARRACK’S JOCKS and so forth, were barred from registration in light of the fact that the imprints made an immediate association with President Barack Obama. Almost overnight, the DRUMPF mark became “in use,” but unfortunately for the critiques of Donald Trump, trademark registration requires more than just ‘use’. Under 15 U.S.C. § 1052 of the Lanham Act registration of a designation that identifies a particular living individual, absent written consent, is barred. The section states that,
“No trademark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it, consists of or comprises a name, portrait, or signature identifying a particular living individual except by his written consent.”
Names can be registered as marks, however, consent is required if the individual bearing the name will be associated with the mark or if the person is well known or publically connected with the goods and services. The DRUMPF application, is somewhat more complicated since Drumpf is not actually Donald Trump’s surname. It is allegedly Donald Trump’s original family name that has long since been changed. Assuming that there are no long-lost Drumpf relatives still using the name, Drumpf may not technically fall under the “living person” requirement of the section since the Drumpf name has been reportedly changed and is not a known living person. Or at least this was John Oliver’s hope in filing the application.
However, amidst the ongoing legal battle, it seems that John Oliver has achieved his purpose, as it does not matter now whether the application for DRUMPF trademark will be rejected or accepted. Regardless the USPTO’s decision, the result is something that John Oliver should be happy of: either the DRUMPF application is not associated with a living person and proceeds to potentially obtaining registration, or an Examiner rejects the DRUMPF application due to association with a living person, i.e., Donald Trump.