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Wrestling with the Scope of Trademark Rights

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Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox

2024 has started off strong for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, as he recently joined the board of TKO Ground, the company behind WWE and UFC, and acquired WWE’s trademark rights in his “THE ROCK” nickname.

In a press release related to the deal, Johnson stated “Being on the TKO Board of Directors, and taking full ownership of my name, ‘The Rock,’ is not only unprecedented, but incredibly inspiring as my crazy life is coming full circle.” While it is unclear what exactly Johnson meant by taking full ownership of my name, acquiring trademark rights does not give the trademark owner full ownership of the word or phrase, or the right to use a mark in any context. 

In its simplest form, a trademark is a word or symbol used to identify the source of a good or service. Owning a trademark allows the owner to prevent third parties from using a mark in a way that is likely to cause confusion as to the source of the goods or service.

In Johnson’s case, THE ROCK trademarks identify wrestling entertainment services and related merchandise. Accordingly, within the space of wrestling, Johnson owns THE ROCK name. However, other entities also own trademarks in THE ROCK for dissimilar goods and/or services, including but not limited to: Prudential Insurance’s registration covering insurance related services; Abstract Ice, Inc.’s registration covering ice products; and National Dragway Corporation’s registration covering entertainment in the nature automobile races.

While Johnson likely understood that acquiring WWE’s trademarks in THE ROCK does not mean he is able to prevent others from using THE ROCK in connection with unrelated goods and services, his statement highlights both the importance of securing rights to key brands, and also the importance of understanding what a trademark is and the rights that come along with it.