In 2016 Beyoncé took legal action against the Texas based company, Feyoncé Inc, for “brazenly” selling merchandise that infringed her name and trade marks. The lawsuit was filed in the Manhattan federal court, naming the company and three defendants from San Antonio and seeking unspecified damages. The suit claims that Feyoncé has ignored the singer’s requests to stop selling their products, and that their items not only confuse consumers but had caused the pop star irreparable harm. The suit singled out a mug stamped with the phrase, “Feyoncé: He put a ring on it” (a alleged reference to one of the star’s big hits, Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)) – although of course that could be a pun on the word “fiancé – also similar to the defendant;s name and brand and the use of engagement and wedding bands. Feyoncé had previously claimed their business was not named after the star, instead insisting the name is a phonetic representation of ‘fiancee’ or ‘fiance’ and saying their products are marketed at engaged couples. Beyoncé’s suit said the company’s actions were “intentional, fraudulent, malicious, wilful and wanton” and sought a permanent injunction against Feyoncé.
Now a US judge has declined to issue an injunction banning Feyoncé Inc from selling merchandise featuring their brand: Judge Alison Nathan refused to issue a permanent injunction stopping Feyoncé Inc from selling Feyoncé Inc products, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan said Feyonce’s choice to capitalize off the “exceedingly famous” Beyoncé trademark did not mean confusion would follow, and saying that whilst Beyonce’s side had made some compelling arguments, she felt that the core dispute required proper consideration in court before a jury, and therefore a summary judgement in the pop star’s favour was not appropriate at this time. She then urged both sides to meet to consider a possible settlement.
Nathan opined that it would be up to a jury to decide whether the average consumer would assume that branded Feyoncé mechandise was endorsed by or connected to Beyoncé. Nathan noted a 1990s case in which Nike failed in its bid to stop a company from selling products that mimicked its logo, but which used the word Mike instead of Nike. judge Nathan wrote: “A rational jury might or might not conclude that the pun here is sufficient to dispel any confusion among the purchasing public ….. Many purchasers of Feyoncé products are, in fact, engaged, just as many Mike product purchasers were named Mike. Viewed in the light most favourable to defendants, this evidence suggests that consumers are understanding the pun, rather than confusing the brands”.