USDC W.D. Washington, August 7, 2008

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The district court held that heirs of Jimi Hendrix owned valid trademarks incorporating Jimi Hendrix’s name and likeness even though they did not own Hendrix’s publicity rights.

Jimi Hendrix died intestate in 1970 and his entire estate went to his father. Hendrix’s father subsequently created various companies that registered and licensed dozens of trademarks incorporating Jimi Hendrix’s name or likeness (such as “Experience Hendrix” and “Authentic Hendrix”). The defendants began using the marks “Jimi Hendrix Electric” and “Jimi Hendrix Electric Vodka” for distilled spirits, prompting Experience Hendrix to file suit for trademark infringement.

Although a prior court decision established that, under New York law, no rights of publicity were passed from Jimi Hendrix to his father (or to Experience Hendrix), the court rejected the defendants’ argument that the plaintiffs’ trademarks were invalid. The court noted that trademark rights and publicity rights are distinct rights analyzed under different standards, and that “the right of publicity under state law is not necessary to acquire valid trademark rights under federal law.”

The court then analyzed the plaintiffs’ incontestable trademarks and the defendants marks using the Sleekcraft factors and concluded that the defendants’ marks were infringing because they were likely to cause confusion regarding the origin or source of the goods and services defendants were offering.