“I put my name on it because I believe in the high quality of my pastis and take great pride in its unique taste” declared Paul Ricard.
Many company founders give their names to their flagship trademarks to build trust and connect with the public. Several French companies such as Lacoste, Nestlé, Cassegrain, and William Saurin, as well as foreign companies such as Schweppes and Ferrari are all examples of this trend.
As long as the founders who bear the name are at the helm of the company, one expects the founding values to be respected and the know-how to be passed on. However, in 2006, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) concluded that the sole fact that the patronymic name owner no longer participated in the company selling the goods bearing that mark did not automatically mean that the public was being misled. It is entirely possible to continue to use a trademark without the founder or his inheritors being involved in the creative process.
In fact, according to the CJEU, the departure of an eponymous founder or of his inheritors does not necessarily constitute actual deceit, nor does it pose a sufficiently serious risk that the consumer will be deceived. Thus the revocation or refusal of the trademark registration cannot be justified.
The fact that a patronymic trademark takes on a life that is completely separate from those who bear its name can have serious consequences on the family’s image and on their other business ventures. For example, after the recent beef scandal, the Spanghero family issued a press release claiming that “the Spanghero family no longer controls the eponymous company located at Castelnaudary, having ceded control in April 2009”. Their name had been linked to the fraudulent activity in newspapers across the globe!
Using a patronymic name as a trademark is therefore not a neutral option.
Upon sale of the company, the Spanghero family would have had a hard time in getting the acquirer to change the company’s name, since the latter was primarily paying for the company’s reputation.
In conclusion: The consequences associated with a patronymic name should be considered from the initial stages of choosing a name, before it becomes well-known.
While patronymic names fulfill the desire for authenticity, certain companies have managed to protect their family’s name and image by adopting fictitious patronymic names, such as BRUCE FIELD. They may have found the best compromise yet!