When turning on the radio here in Miami, it can be hard to avoid a song that has, in some way or another, been touched by either will.i.am or Pharrell Williams. The two have produced music for other stars and released hit songs themselves. To maximize their brands, both have also ventured into other areas of business. Unfortunately, it appears the pair may soon be embroiled in legal action over the intellectual property related to their growing portfolios.
Will.i.am – legally named William Adams – holds a trademark for his stage name, “will.i.am,” as well as the words “I Am”. The artist uses the “I Am” moniker in much of his work, including charity work and a clothing line. Williams, however, uses the words “I Am Other” for business interests ranging from music to jewelry, cosmetics and even a bicycle manufacturer. About a year ago, Williams sought to register his use of “I Am.”
Recently, will.i.am filed opposition to the trademark applications submitted by Williams. Although the parties provide differing stories over whether, and how much, negotiation had taken place, will.i.am chose to officially file his opposition just as the time within which to do so – six months from the date of application – was drawing to a close. At issue is whether Williams’ “I Am Other” is too similar to the “I Am” trademarked by will.i.am, so much so that the consumer public might be confused.
IP laws are meant to protect the time and investment a person or business puts into building a relationship between the trademark and the services or products and distinguish it from other providers. Considering that the artists would both use the terms in similar business settings, the issue of consumer confusion will likely play an important role in the resolution of this dispute.
While such resolution may be a ways off, the situation illustrates the importance in the entertainment industry of protecting intellectual property. Because artists and other entertainment professionals are often a “brand” in and of themselves, establishing and protecting a trademark can be vital to maximizing value and protecting an image. In this case, it appears both will.i.am and Pharrell Williams are using what legal means they can to do just that.
Source: Billboard, “Will.i.am Lawyer Sounds Off on Trademark Dispute,” Glenn Peoples, July 1, 2013