Several years ago, Sony created a fictional character called Kevin Butler (played by Jerry Lambert) who was depicted as vice-president of Playstation and starred in its adverts for the Playstation 3 brand. The character became well-known and successfully revived the struggling brand.
A few years later, Lambert starred in a different advert for Bridgestone Tires. This time Lambert played an unnamed Bridgestone engineer playing on a Nintendo Wii.
Sony is now suing both Bridgestone and Lambert’s agents, stating that “use of the Kevin Butler character to sell products other than those from PlayStation misappropriates Sony's intellectual property, creates confusion in the market and causes damage to Sony.”
Sony claimed that in using Lambert Bridgestone had intentionally capitalised unfairly on the consumer goodwill generated by the Kevin Butler character. In its defence, Bridgestone intend to highlight the different personalities of the two characters, who only bear a natural physical resemblance to one another because they are played by the same actor. Bridgestone are also asserting that, not having registered any trade mark for Kevin Butler, Sony has no claim to the Kevin Butler character, and with the character not having acquired any secondary meaning, there is very little chance of confusion among consumers.
It will be interesting to follow the progress of this case, particularly because if Sony succeed, this may lead the way to claiming intellectual property rights in the way an actor looks