Names are important for any kind of business, but in Florida’s entertainment business, a person’s name can be everything. People’s personal names can sometimes carry the weight of what marketers call a “brand,” or carry the legal protections of a registered trademark. At the same time, names are just names. Sometimes two people have the same name, and there’s not much that can be done to clear up any confusion.

Recently, a company affiliated with the rock band Van Halen filed a lawsuit against the ex-wife of drummer Alex Van Halen, alleging that her use of the name Kelly Van Halen in her construction and interior design company infringes its rights in the trademark “Van Halen,” and is likely to confuse consumers.

The band name Van Halen, of course, comes from the family name of brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Alex married Kelly Carter in 1984, and she took his last name. The couple divorced in 1996. The lawsuit alleges that Kelly Van Halen filed applications to register the trademark “Kelly Van Halen” for use with interior design and construction services and products such as blankets and chairs. Lawyers for ELVH, the holding company that controls intellectual property for the rock band, claim that Kelly’s use of the trademark is confusingly similar to their trademarks.

The case tests some of the limits of entertainment law, raising important issues of intellectual property and personality rights. For example, a famous female athlete may have a lucrative source of income in licensing and merchandising deals with sportswear companies. If others use her name on their products or services without her permission, and without paying a licensing fee, it could infringe upon her rights of personality. Such an unlicensed use could give a misleading impression that she endorsed the products. Trademarks work differently, following laws of intellectual property, but when a trademark overlaps with a person’s name, it can lead to some messy legal complications.

When people and businesses in Florida’s entertainment industry run into this type of dispute, it’s important that they find legal help from professionals who understand the issues at work in entertainment law. Entertainment can be just for fun, but behind the scenes it is serious business.

Source: Hollywood Reporter, “Van Halen Sues Drummer’s Ex-Wife for Using Famous Last Name,” Eriq Gardner, Oct. 16, 2013