Mariah Carey might be the “Queen of Christmas,” but a new legal ruling means she won’t be able to stop others from using the same name.
In a decision issued Tuesday, a tribunal at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected Carey’s application to register the royal title as a federal trademark. The decision went in favor of Elizabeth Chan, another singer who says she’s used the same name for years.
Chan filed a legal case against Carey in August, arguing that “Christmas is big enough for more than one Queen.” After that, Carey never responded to the case or defended her applications for the trademarks, prompting the Trademark Office to rule in favor of Chan by default.
In a statement, Chan’s lawyer Louis Tompros called Carey’s efforts to secure legal protection over the “Queen” name “a classic case of trademark bullying” – a term used to criticize overly-aggressive trademark protection by big brands.
“We are pleased with the victory, and delighted that we were able to help Elizabeth fight back against Carey’s overreaching trademark registrations,” said Tompros, an attorney at the law firm WilmerHale.
In the same statement, Chan herself added: “Christmas is a season of giving, not the season of taking, and it is wrong for an individual to attempt to own and monopolize a nickname like Queen of Christmas for the purposes of abject materialism.”
Carey’s attorney did not return a request for comment on the decision.
Likely playing on her perennial smash hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” Carey’s company (Lotion LLC) applied last year to register the “Queen” name as an exclusive brand name for a variety of different goods and services, ranging from music to alcohol to fragrances.
Trademarks are different than copyrights, and they do not give someone blanket ownership over particular words. If Carey had won the registrations and wanted to sue someone, she still would have needed to prove that consumers had confused the two brand names – not always an easy task, particularly with a fairly unoriginal name like “Queen of Christmas.”
But such registrations are still important, and would have empowered Carey’s company to start threatening litigation and crowding out others from using it in similar commercial contexts. That potentially would include Chan, who calls her self “pop music’s only full-time Christmas singer” and says she’s also been repeatedly dubbed the “Queen of Christmas.”
The risk of such litigation prompted Chan to file her August case at the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a court-like body within the USPTO that decides disputes over who is entitled to register particular trademarks. Repped by Tompros, she argued that no single singer or company should be able to lock up the title.
“Ms. Carey can call herself whatever she wants, but she shouldn’t have the ability to block others from doing the same,” Tompros said at the time.
It’s unclear exactly what motivated Carey and her lawyers (from the elite trademark law firm Fross Zelnick) to file the applications, particularly after she gave an interview in December in which she seemed to disclaim the title: “To me, Mary is the Queen of Christmas.”
The dispute over the “Queen” title prompted some fun wrangling among other Christmas “queens.” Darlene Love jokingly urged Carey to “call my lawyer,” noting that David Letterman had “officially declared me the Queen of Christmas 29 years ago.” And just last week, Dolly Parton quickly conceded the title to Carey after an interviewer suggested that Parton might be “the new Queen of Christmas.”
“Now, don’t you say that! I’m not going to compete with Mariah,” Parton said in the interview with Better Homes and Gardens. “I love her. You think of Christmas, you think of Mariah.”