By: Jeffrey G. Sheldon, Esq.
Harris Faulkner, a Fox News Anchor, sued Hasbro, Inc. last year for appropriating her name for a plastic toy hamster as a part of Hasbro’s “Littlest Pet Shop” toy line. Harris the hamster is depicted on the packaging as the “little friend” of Benson Detwyler – a plastic terrier.
Faulkner sued the company for $5 million, alleging violations of the Lanham Act and New Jersey common law for right to publicity.
Judge Katharine S. Hayden, a federal judge in New Jersey, recently denied Hasbro’s motion to dismiss the case. The dismissal allows Faulkner’s suit to proceed, the judge decided, because Faulkner’s exact name used on a mini toy hamster from Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop line is enough to plead a violation of Faulkner’s right to publicity, and that the imaginary play world the toy is meant to be used in creates a character.
“Faulkner is entitled to adduce evidence that as a child plays inside this fictionalized, highly interactive world, s/he may see or put into the girl hamster doll named Harris Faulkner the identity, persona, and characteristics of the real Harris Faulkner,” Judge Hayden wrote.
Faulkner notes that the packaging for the hamster figure includes a trademark (TM) symbol after Faulkner’s name:
[S]ince Faulkner does not, and as a journalist cannot, endorse commercial products, Hasbro’s use of her name in association with the Harris Faulkner Hamster Doll creates the false impression that Faulkner would impugn her own professional ethics by agreeing to have a commercial product named after her.
Faulkner, a six-time Emmy-winner, complains that this “falsely signifies that Hasbro claims a United States trademark interest in Faulkner’s name, when it in fact owns no such interest, registered or otherwise.”
She also says that being portrayed as a rodent is “demeaning and insulting.” The complaint alleges that
elements of the Harris Faulkner Hamster Doll also bear a physical resemblance to Faulkner’s traditional professional appearance, in particular tone of its complexion, the shape of its eyes, and the design of its eye makeup.
It is possible to register personal names as trademarks. For example, celebrities like Madonna, Brad Pitt, and Taylor Swift have registered their names as federal trademarks.
However, those who for professional or other reasons decline to register their names as trademarks can (under some circumstances) seek damages when others use their names as trademarks.