5 Hispanic/Latinx Icons and How They’ve Protected Their Trademarks
Taylor Tieman | September 14, 2022
The History of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month
Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States from September 15th through October 15th and is inclusive of both Hispanic and Latino cultures throughout the country. According to the U.S. Census, “People who identify with the terms ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the decennial census questionnaire and various Census Bureau survey questionnaires – Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano or Puerto Rican or Cuban – as well as those who indicate that they are ‘another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.’”1 The term “Latinx” is often used as a gender-neutral or non-binary replacement for either “Latino” or “Latina.”
Hispanic/Latinx History with the USPTO
According to an Empirical Study of Gender and Race in Trademark Prosecution, Hispanic/Latinx individuals accounted for just above 4% of U.S. trademark applications in 1986, and this number has only grown to just above 7% in the year 2018.2 Comparatively, Hispanics made up 18.1% of the entire U.S. population in 2018.3 This study made it overwhelmingly clear that Hispanic/Latinx individuals are severely underrepresented, hovering around -60% underrepresentation with the USPTO.4
The Importance of Hispanic/Latinx Representation
Based on population and business growth alone, the numbers here just don’t add up. In 2018, it was reported that Hispanic/Latinx businesses were driving more than $700 billion into the U.S. economy, with 4.4 million businesses contributing to these numbers.5 With all of these businesses thriving, why aren’t they filing more applications with the USPTO?
Several factors could be at play, including things like socioeconomic disadvantages, a general level of discomfort and distrust of the legal system, and even a lack of attorneys whom the community trusts to represent them. However, one way to draw inspiration is to reflect on the trailblazers in the community that have protected their intellectual property and have shown the true value in securing their brands’ legacies by way of securing a federal trademark registration.
Selena Quintanilla, Mexican American Singer (1971-1995)
Selena Quintanilla was nicknamed the “Queen of Tejano music.” She was a Texas-born, Mexican-American singer and performer whose life was tragically cut short in 1995 when she was fatally shot by the president of her fan club. After her death, Selena’s father Abraham filed (and continues to file) trademark applications with the USPTO to protect Selena’s autograph, her stage name (“Selena”), and various song track titles.
Selena’s family has been extremely protective of the rights to any current trademark registrations, purportedly sending out cease and desists to those that unlawfully infringe upon their existing rights. While song titles are singular titles that are not protectible on their own, the Quintanilla family has previously secured the rights to these titles for other uses, such as cosmetics and perfumes (which is acceptable with proper use shown). Additionally, Selena’s family has continued to release music that was written and performed by Selena. They have also released their own lines of merchandise in addition to partnering with large brands to license out Selena’s name and image to sell merchandise that allows her legacy to live on. Selena and her family have shown how important it is to file trademark applications during the artist/entrepreneur’s lifetime so that family members can maintain these filings posthumously and secure the artist’s legacy.
Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rican Baseball Player (1934-1972)
A star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente is remembered for the many barriers he broke in Major League Baseball as he fought against racial injustice. He was also a highly decorated player, winning countless awards for his athletic talents. Roberto’s legacy lives on not only in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but also with the USPTO. Clemente Properties, Inc. still holds a trademark registration for Roberto’s full name, “Roberto Clemente” which was secured in 2017 for items such as figurines, baseball recordings, photo albums, glassware, apparel, baseball memorabilia, etc. Like with Selena, it is important for Roberto’s family to file trademark applications and maintain registrations to secure rights to Roberto’s legacy and capitalize on the rights to his name by selling merchandise.
J.Lo, American Entertainer of Puerto Rican descent (1969-)
Jennifer Lopez (“J.Lo”) is an American-born, Puerto Rican entertainer with numerous acting, singing, and dancing credits to her name. She is also a savvy entrepreneur, maintaining several companies and products sold under her brand umbrella worldwide. The JLO Holding Company, LLC owns over 40 trademark applications and registrations. These applications and registrations have been filed for goods and services across the board from musical recordings and live performances, to skincare products, perfumes, cosmetics, etc. Like others before her, J.Lo has taken the brand that she has created as an entertainer and expanded into the beauty industry. With a net worth of $400 million, J.Lo’s empire has landed her on Forbes’ lists of top self-made women. This expansion into many different industries, with several trademarks following, has allowed J.Lo to ensure that she will be on the receiving end of many different streams of passive income when and if her singing/acting/dancing career ever wraps up.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Composer and Actor of Puerto Rican descent (1980-)
A man of many musical talents, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an American born, Puerto Rican rapper, actor, composer, playwright, and entrepreneur. Not only has Lin-Manuel completely transformed the Broadway music scene with Hamilton, but he also owns Tee-Rico, LLC, an entity with a total of five trademark applications and/or registrations for the name “TeeRico” itself, an autograph of “Siempre, Lin-Manuel”, as well as a logo. As Lin-Manuel surely knows about the importance of his intellectual property involved in each of his musicals and soundtracks, he has also taken steps to protect the trademarks that he solely owns by way of operating Tee-Rico, LLC – a merchandise store. Owning trademarks such as these allow Miranda to capitalize on his brand and not have to share ownership with large studios such as Disney, which owns the rights to Hamilton as well as Encanto, the major animated motion picture for which Miranda wrote eight original songs.
Desi Arnaz, Cuban Actor and Singer (1917-1986)
Desi Arnaz, originally a Cuban immigrant to the United States, was not only a star performer on the hit television show “I Love Lucy”, but he is also considered a trailblazer in the entertainment business. After marrying wife Lucille Ball, the couple founded Desilu Productions in 1950. At the time, this was the second-largest independent television production company in the U.S. Desi, on his own and on behalf of Desilu Productions, filed many trademark applications over the years for motion picture productions and the production of motion pictures. Desi used his talents and experience to build a brand that would eventually be bought out. Desi and Lucille split up in 1960 and Lucille bought out Desi’s portion of the company (and assets) for a reported $2.5 million. Later, Desilu Productions would be bought out by Paramount Studios for $17 million.
These Hispanic/Latinx pioneers in their respective fields have shown us why it is important for other Hispanic/Latinx brand owners to secure their brand’s trademarks in industries across the board: music, sports, entertainment, retail. With the US Latino community being 7th-largest GDP in the world (if it were an independent country),6 it is clear that this community is here and is ready to invest and buy from Hispanic/Latinx-owned businesses – to the tune of $700 billion dollars.
In order for these businesses to truly capitalize on their brands and secure their legacies, trademark registrations must be secured and maintained. Additionally, it is crucial that Hispanic/Latinx business owners have adequate legal representation. This means that law firms and law schools should actively recruit Hispanic/Latinx attorneys and students to pursue careers in intellectual property law. Other attorneys can also help serve the Hispanic/Latinx community by providing culturally relevant representation, that is, providing strong client advocacy with an understanding of the client’s cultural experience. Culturally relevant representation is particularly important when Hispanic/Latinx brand owners are filing trademark applications for marks in foreign languages or using other terms or imagery that are relevant to Hispanic/Latinx culture. By providing culturally relevant representation, attorneys can ensure that they are providing the best possible advocacy for their clients and helping them to secure maximum trademark protection.