If you went to a store called Van Halen and walked out with a chair and a blanket, would you think you bought them from the rock band? This question was never presented in court, as the case involving the band Van Halen and drummer Alex’s ex-wife was settled recently. However, if the case had gone to court, and a judge did find potential for consumer confusion, the former Ms. Van Halen likely would not have been allowed to continue her company under the Van Halen name.
Kelly and Alex Van Halen divorced in 1996 and Kelly subsequently filed two trademark applications under her married name for her interior design company. Then, in 2013, Alex and his brother Eddie sued Kelly, realizing that her use of the name was both unfair competition against the band and was also diluting the mark’s value in the marketplace. The crux of their argument was that her use was confusingly similar to the band’s use of the mark which began prior in time to Kelly’s mark.
While it would have been interesting to see the outcome had this case gone to trial, the settlement demonstrates a harmonious use not often seen in the trademark world. The parties agreed that Kelly could continue using the marks for her interior design business, but not to dabble in any music-related services, as that would almost certainly cause confusion.
The settlement is a win-win-win, as the parties each benefit from the settlement, and trademark law shines. The true purpose of trademark law is to prevent consumer confusion, and in this case, it is clear that the parties were able to focus on this goal. As a practical matter, Kelly’s use of Van Halen for her interior design work is would not reasonably be mistaken for infringing the band’s music, the result appears to be a fair one.