At the Madisonian blog (with slick new redesign!), the ever inventive Mike Madison reports on a conversation at a dinner party that surely was populated by law professors and info/law geeks: what should either law or ethics have to say if expectant parents sold naming rights to their baby, like every sports stadium does. Among the guests, “the informal betting was that we will see this happening by the end of the decade.”
It doesn’t sound like much of a leap to me because so many parents already put brand names on their birth certificates. And I don’t mean names like Mercedes, that had history as a name for people (and places and institutions) before it became associated with the car.
My wife often recounts a presentation she attended from a Disney executive who bragged about the strength of Disney’s brand names, giving as an example the double-digit number of children in the United States named ESPN or Espn after the Disney-owned cable sports network (see here and here for more on various little baby ESPNs). And a quick Google search turns up this boast on Google’s blog:
Walid Elias Kai, a Ph.D. in search engine marketing, is, it must be said, an avid fan of our company. Dr. Kai, who is Lebanese, and his Swedish wife Carol live in Kalmar, Sweden, where their son was born on September 12 . His name? Oliver Google Kai.
Of course, there’s a website devoted to young Mr. Kai. We wish him long life and good health, and hope his schoolmates aren’t too hard on him.
Maybe payment for baby-naming rights will not come to pass — because consumers are so willing to brand their children for free! Of course, I wonder how Disney will feel if some day baby ESPN grows up to commit a heinous crime or star in a porn film. Talk about dilution by tarnishment! (Laches defense, perhaps?) And this only works for brands that are already beloved by consumers. I don’t really anticipate anyone naming their kid TD Banknorth voluntarily — that’s why they had to go out and buy the rights to the no-longer-new Boston Garden.
Whatever the economics of it, it’s quite a thought experiment for what it says about our trademark-saturated society. As Mike concludes:
From an IP perspective, most of this seems pretty unexciting, if not uncomplicated, and it’s the progression of IP into nearly all aspects of daily life that prompted our idle speculation last weekend. If identity can be owned, as in some kinds of privacy and publicity contexts, then why can’t identity be sold or licensed? There is the usual commodification/propertization question, but it seems to me that society allows (even encourages) so much objectification and commodification of identity that taking this step is likely to be unremarkable.
Update: Former-Berkmanite-turned-law-student Luis Villa points me to this article, about a project converting the whole person-naming question into a bit of controversial performance art (combined with some development aid).
Filed under: Trademarks