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Kim Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Kim Kardashian (there, that should get the Google page ranking up)

Kim Kardashian is famous.

I don't really understand why, and who she is and what she does is not really of any interest to me, but, hey, whatever. Live and let live.

But here's where she gets interesting from an IP perspective.

Background: She's leveraged her fame into being the owner of some sort of business empire (don't ask me to explain what she does or how it works). One aspect of this is her clothing line.

As part of this, she recently applied to register the word 'Kimono' (oh, very clever, Kim. I see what you did there) for her 'shapewear' range of clothes, along with the words 'Kimono Body', 'Kimono Intimates' and 'Kimono World' for her new shapewear collection. The applications designated goods in class 18 (leather and imitations of leather, animal skins, trunks and travelling bags and umbrellas) and class 25 (bags, wallets, shapewear, robes and kimonos).

'Kimono' is of course a Japanese word, which roughly translates as 'a thing to wear'. In the western world, the general association would be something like 'a long robe of Japanese origin'.

So this attempt to register the word as a trade mark has caused something of a stir. Cultural appropriation, and all that.

More explicitly, the argument goes like this: using the word 'Kimono' for a line of products that have nothing to do with actual Japanese kimonos removes the word from any cultural or historical context, and therefore over-writes or erases Japanese tradition and experiences.

The Mayor of Kyoto has gone as far as to write to Ms Kardashian and ask her to withdraw the applications.

As well as a cultural aspect to these applications, there is also a technical/legal aspect. Applications for marks that are generic - that is, for a word or picture that is descriptive and non-distinctive for a particular category of goods or services - cannot be registered. For example, words such as 'cheese', 'chocolate', or 'boots' are entirely descriptive of categories of goods, and so cannot be registered as trade marks.

The US Patent Office has already made objections to one of Kim Kardashian's applications on these grounds, noting that the application 'includes wording that is indefinite, overly broad, and/or includes goods or services in multiple classes. Furthermore, the word “Kimono” in connection with Kimono Solutionwear and Kimono World is merely descriptive [my emphasis added] of a function of the applicant’s goods/services'.

The implication here is that Ms Kardashian cannot register the word 'Kimono' for actual kimonos or other types of wearable garments, such as robes. However, it should be noted that the same would potentially not apply to other types of clothes such as bags and wallets, as it is not a descriptive word for these types of goods.

It should aslo be noted that any applications filed for 'logos' of the word 'kiimono' in a stylised font would probably be allowable. This is a specific form rather than generic. However, there is only infringement if that specific form is used on other/counterfeit goods - other stylised forms will probably not infringe.

Another option is for Ms Kardashian to simply use the word on her goods without formally registering it, although she would then not be able to easily take action against infringers.

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