Japan Politely Asks Kim Kardashian to Rebrand: Kimono Trademark

Kim Kardashian is no stranger to controversy or being in the news, but her latest business foray has piqued interest abroad as well as in the intellectual property field.  The latest public criticism has come from Kardashian’s decision to name her new shapewear line “Kimono,” and her recent moves to trademark “KIMONO,” “KIMONO BODY,” and “KIMONO WORLD” in connection with the shapewear line.

Japanese Government at Odds with Potential Kimono Trademark in U.S.

Kardashian’s choice to use “kimono” has incited a considerable amount of public criticism and response.  Those involved in questioning Kardashian’s choice range from individuals on the Internet all the way to national representatives in Japan.  Specifically, the mayor of Kyoto City, Daisaku Kadokawa has penned an open letter to Kardashian, inviting her to visit Japan to experience “the essence of Kimono Culture” in hopes that she will reconsider use of the term in connection with her shapewear line.  While a country cannot typically intervene in a trademark application without holding specific rights in the contested mark or a confusingly similar mark, the mayor of Kyoto City hoped to persuade Kardashian by noting that the kimono had not only been an important part of Japanese cultural history, but also because the Japanese government is actively working to register kimono with UNESCO to be listed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Wave of Disapproval Develops in Social Media with News of Kardashian Kimono Trademark Brand

Similarly, social media has also been abuzz in protest of Kardashian’s latest move.  Across multiple platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Japanese women have posted photographs of themselves in actual kimonos in protest against Kardashian’s latest business venture.  Despite all of the public outcry, such sentiment is prohibited from impacting the U.S. Trademark Office’s decision.  The decision over whether Kardashian will be able to successfully register “KIMONO” is left ultimately up to the U.S. Trademark Office alone, and the federal agency is banned from making subjective decisions on the registrability of the mark based on public sentiment.  

Kimono Trademark for Clothing is Likely Generic

Many legal experts believe that Kardashian will still be unable to register the mark because the U.S. Trademark Office is likely to determine that “kimono” is a generic term that cannot be trademarked because other brand owners must be able to have access to the term in order to sell their wares.  Specifically, because Kardashian has filed her applications in classes that cover articles of clothing, a successful application would block use of the term “kimono” with the sale of actual kimonos, which are culturally significant Japanese ceremonial garb that are sold both in “authentic” and less authentic versions. 

Because U.S. trademark law does not allow brand owners to have a monopoly on generic terms in order to better serve the public good, it would behoove brand owners and intellectual property attorneys alike to see if the U.S. Trademark Office rejects Kardashian’s applications on the grounds of genericness, as it is important for the U.S. Trademark Office to uphold precedent even when it comes to such famous celebrity applicants.

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