Recently, Tyler Perry won the right to trademark “What Would Jesus Do.” There are a couple of points I’d like to make about this story.
First, some of the media coverage has suggested Tyler Perry can now stop Christians from wearing the popular WWJD bracelets. This is not true. When you apply for a trademark, you have to designate a class of goods or services for your mark. The trademark protections you get then only apply to this designated class. Tyler Perry’s trademark application describes its class as “entertainment services” with specific references to concerts, tv programs and motion pictures. This has led to speculation that Mr. Perry is developing a motion picture to be called “What Would Jesus Do.” However, Mr. Perry has no right to stop people from using the phrase on other goods or services outside of the field of entertainment services, including bracelets and other apparel.
Second, there were two competing claims to this trademark: Tyler Perry’s application, and the application of Kimberly Kearney, a former reality TV contestant. Ms. Kearney intended to use the phrase for a reality game show, and her application predates Mr. Perry’s application. Mr. Perry then opposed Ms. Kearney’s application on the basis that Ms. Kearney did not actually use the trademark (generally, a prerequisite to trademark registration is use of the trademark). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Perry’s well-financed legal team won the dispute.
Finally, Mr. Perry was compelled by the trademark examiner to disclaim any right to use the word “Jesus” apart from the entire phrase. The USPTO typically requires registrant’s to disclaim rights to words commonly used in trademarks (words such as “financial” or “restaurant,” for example) other than as part of the entire trademark. The purpose of this is to ensure no one person can claim the exclusive right to such words.