A Trayvon trademark? Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin — the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed last month by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman — has filed two trademark applications for phrases related to her son's name: "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon." (Fulton can't trademark her son's name alone because personal names can only be trademarked if they have "acquired a different meaning.") Both rallying cries have appeared on the T-shirts and hoodies of protesters demanding Zimmerman's arrest in the wake of the 17-year-old's death. Why is Trayvon's mother doing this? Here, a brief guide:
What's behind the move?
According to Fulton's lawyer, the goal is to prevent anyone else from profiting from or exploiting Martin's name. Trayvon's family wants to protect the intellectual property rights for "projects that will assist other families who experience similar tragedies." She is specifically petitioning for use of the terms on "digital materials, namely CDs and DVDs featuring Trayvon," but the trademark would extend to other products as well. When asked whether Fulton has any plans to profit from the trademarks, her attorney replied, "None."
So it's a defensive move?
Yes, says patent attorney Victor Baranowski. Trademarking the phrases prevents others from doing the same thing — and "capitalizing on [Trayvon's death] in a negative way."
Has his name already been misused?
Absolutely. The name "has been co-opted by all manner of opportunists, says Abe Sauer at Brand Channel. T-shirts, buttons, and hoodies are being peddled on eBay and Cafe Press. The websites TrayvonMartin.com and JusticeForTrayvon.com have been registered by people unconnected to Martin's family, while IamTrayvon.com leads to a NSFW website for strip club reviews. In one sickening incident, a North Carolina nightclub handed out party flyers that read, "Everyone free B4 11 with an empty bag of Skittles," a reference to the candy Martin bought before his death. The club owners claim they planned to use any party proceeds to fund a scholarship in Martin's name, says Briana Lopes at The Grio, but the soiree was canceled.
Still, is Fulton being a little opportunistic?
That's what some cynics think. One commenter on The Smoking Gun imagined a scenario in which a crowd of hundreds at a rally chant, "Justice for Trayvon!" and Martin's mom replies, "Thank you, all! Now that will be $9.95 from each of you using his name." "I can't get the 'cha-ching' sound of a cash register out of my head," says Weasel Zippers. Such comments reflect ignorance about how trademarks actually work, says Sauer. With all of the attention the case has received, these applications are very likely "just another bit of advice from legal counsel."