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Dolly Parton Faces Trademark Dispute Over Using Her Own Name

Dolly Parton in trademark dispute with Dolly Madison

There are few American celebrities as beloved as Dolly Parton. With a career spanning more than half a century, though, she no doubt has run into her share of setbacks. And with a newly filed opposition against the singer’s recent trademark application, she may experience some difficulty expanding her brand. Strangely enough, the dispute is over use of her own name.

Dolly Parton Trademark Dispute

In March 2020, Dolly Parton submitted a trademark application for a stylized version of “Dolly” featuring a butterfly. The design contains the singer’s autograph as part of the trademark.  Thereafter, the Dolly Madison company submitted its trademark opposition.

What may surprise some people is that Dolly Madison might have a valid case.  The company has sold ice cream and frozen confectionery items for nearly a century. In the notice of opposition, they claim that consumers might be confused if the Dolly Parton trademark is granted. That’s because the application was filed in Trademark Class 30.

This international class includes:

  • Cookie mix
  • Edible cookie dough
  • Cake frosting
  • Frozen confections
  • Bakery goods
  • Edible glue for confectionery decorating
  • Dessert items

While the Dolly Parton and Dolly Madison trademarks don’t look especially similar, it’s easy to see how use of the term “Dolly” on similar products may cause a likelihood of confusion. Confusion may be caused by visual or auditory similarities, so the fact that Ms. Parton’s brand features her own signature may mean little to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB).

Additionally, the Dolly Madison brand did not file oppositions against the several other trademark applications submitted by Ms. Parton on the same day. Even though the exact design was used in each of the other applications, none of them fell into the same industry as Dolly Madison.

What Happens Now?

What happens now in the Dolly Parton trademark dispute is up to the parties involved and the TTAB. The singer has until October 19, 2021 to file an answer to the opposition — unless the USPTO grants an extension. If she fails to do so, the TTAB will likely find in favor of the Dolly Madison brand.

This puts the ball squarely in Dolly Parton’s court. She may choose to not defend her use in class 030 — which she filed on an intent to use basis — or she could come to an agreement with the Madison brand over use of the trademark. If she chooses to fight back against the opposition, though, the case could span into the early months of 2023.

This is far from the only case of celebrities having trouble trademarking their own names. It will certainly stand out to observers, though, due to the fame and popularity Parton has built over the years. And it reminds us that — even though the singer has rights to her name — these may not be universal.

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