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Brando becomes brand

20 October 2004

While the world consoles itself over the recent death of 20th century icon Marlon Brando, it seems he will escape the kind of immortality often courted by contemporary celebrities: that of his image being licensed for use on countless tacky mouse mats, mugs and key rings.

Brando’s estate has just filed for trademark protection with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, including “as a precautionary measure” a long list of novelty items that may not be manufactured or sold if bearing the actor’s name or image.

The San Jose Mercury News  reports that the estate seeks trademark protection on such items as bottle openers, key chains, license plates, drums, music boxes, post cards, gift wrapping paper, calendars, credit and debit cards, confetti, paper doll books and temporary tattoos, as well as audio/visual recordings and pre-recorded performances and acting lessons.

Mike Medavoy, a Hollywood producer and co-executor of the Brando estate, said the intent is to prevent anyone from profiting off the name and image of the reclusive, two-time Oscar winning actor without the approval of the Brando estate.

“The last thing I'm going to do is do something that cheapens Marlon's image,'' Medavoy said. “You want some sort of blanket protection against anyone doing something that basically goes out and steals his image and puts it on a napkin. This way, you can protect against it.''

If approved by the trademark office, the trademark application would give the three executors of Brando's will (but not his children) wide latitude to license the manufacturing of many different types of products for sale in the future.

The branding of dead celebrities can be a lucrative but tricky business, according to experts. From Marilyn Monroe to Frank Sinatra, a celebrity's name and likeness has to appeal to a broad spectrum of the public for years after they die if they are to retain their iconic status.

Roger Richman, whose Beverly Hills licensing agency  pioneered the branding of dead celebrities, said it is too early to say whether a line of Brando merchandise would do well. What's more, Brando must be introduced to a whole new generation in order for his image to have staying power and commercial appeal.

``It takes five or six years for his memory to be learned and cherished by a different demographic,'' Richman said. ``Most people alive today who first knew of Brando were 15 to 35 years old back then, but now they are 80 or 90.''

Whilst the trademarking of a person's 'image' is not legally recognised in the UK (according to IP blog IPKat) it can be possible in the US. In Tennessee, the estate of Elvis forbids anyone to impersonate The King without their express approval.

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