St Kitts US base lawyer Miss Ozelle Martin was interviewed by Essence regarding the launch of a new rum brand by actor Michael B. Jordan, originally called “J’Ouvert,” which was met with immediate backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation over its name and his efforts to trademark it. Trademark attorney Ozelle Martin explained to ESSENCE that trademark rights are territorial, and, therefore, someone who owns rights to a United States federal trademark via trademark registration may not have rights to that particular trademark in other countries, unless they seek registration in each of those countries.“It is also important to note that much of the outrage stems from the fact that persons believe that trademark registration gives someone the unlimited right to ‘own’ a word regardless of circumstance or context. This is a common misconception but fortunately, this is not how trademark registration works,” she said.
However, Martin, a U.S. based attorney raised on the island of St.Kitts says she does understand why Caribbean people are concerned by this filing for the word J’Ouvert, despite the registration for rights to be used only in connection with the sale of alcoholic beverages. “There are always exceptions to laws. There are West Indians who host carnival related activities in the United States and they are concerned that they may encounter difficulty when trying to federally register brand names that contain the term ‘J’Ouvert’ for their various entertainment events or brands. In my view, their concerns could be valid,” she said. The declaration that “J’Ouvert” has no known meaning in a foreign language came from an examining attorney at the USPTO, Martin pointed out. A transliteration (i.e. a translation of a word or phrase) was initially provided with the application, connecting “J’Ouvert” with its known Caribbean meaning. However, the USPTO attorney amended the application stating that the term has no English equivalent.“As a West Indian, I understand why this part of the application would raise an eyebrow because it ignites a conversation on coined cultural terms in foreign languages and their significance in US trademark law,” Martin pointed out to ESSENCE.