The past few days have brought endless hype and speculation surrounding Rihanna’s new trademark: the phrase “$CHOOL KILLS.” Many people and news outlets have taken this to mean that Rihanna is fast on her way to starting her own clothing and accessories line (can you imagine). As much as we hope that the news is true, let's not forget Rihanna’s past trademarking endeavors, like all of those potential lines under her last name. Fenty Clothing, Fenty Cosmetics, Fenty Apparel and so on were all trademarked by Rihanna last year and stirred up the same speculation, but as you may have noticed, didn’t actually turn into anything.
Since we don’t want Rihanna to break our hearts again for something she technically never confirmed, MTV News talked to Jessica Litman, a law professor at the University of Michigan Law School who’s an expert on trademarks to give us the lowdown on what this all means for Rihanna’s fashionable future.
Litman told us that Rihanna (or her team, rather—girl has bigger things to worry about) recently applied to register a trademark for $CHOOL KILLS for accessories and clothing on an intent-to-use basis. Meaning, she plans on using $CHOOL KILLS to market those items, but hasn’t done it yet—and may never do it. SHE MAY NEVER DO IT, GUYS.
“She won’t actually be granted a trademark registration until she actually sells products under the $CHOOL KILLS trademark and submits proof to the Patent and Trademark Office of her actual use in connection with sales of the umbrellas or bags,” Professor Litman told us. “Intent-to-use applications are essentially an optional pre-clearance mechanism before registration. U.S. law does not protect trademarks or service marks until they have been used in connection with the goods or services.”
Basically, Rihanna isn’t fully protected under the $CHOOL KILLS trademark yet and won’t be until she actually starts producing the goods. "But what about that 'School Kills' T-shirt she wore that one time?" you might be asking. And to that, I say, "Props to you for being as obsessed with Rihanna's wardrobe as us! However, that shirt was actually by Korean-born designer Hyein Seo, whose work Rih has worn some other times before.
It seems like that could be a potential legal disaster, but as Professor Litman explains, Rihanna probably has it all worked out with the designer, telling us “It seems likely that if Rihanna indeed wore $CHOOL KILLS garments made by an unrelated designer or company that she has communicated with the designer or company before filing the trademark application.”
Hanging out in the trademark documents, we found that Rihanna also has a bunch of trademarks that she applied for but let expire, like that potential Fenty brand. What happens to all of those now?
“Since Rihanna’s company has filed a slew of intent-to-use applications, it isn’t surprising that she failed to pursue a lot of them,” Professor Litman said. "Last time I looked, more than half of all intent-to-use applications never matured into actual use. If Rihanna lets an application lapse without using the mark on the products, that abandons the application, and the mark is fair game for anyone to adopt.”
So, if you’re in the market to launch an underwear line under the name Fenty Intimates, now’s the time. Just cross your fingers that Rihanna doesn’t get a surge of inspiration to get that brand going again.
“If, however, she lets the application lapse but uses the mark on products, U.S. trademark law will protect the mark as an unregistered mark,” she explains. “If she has a valid registration or unregistered mark but decides to stop using that mark on those products and has no intention to resume using it, that also abandons the mark, and anyone is free to adopt it for their products.”
The final consensus is that just because Rihanna applies for a trademark doesn’t mean she’s going to do anything with, as she’s shown us in the past. While it’s definitely possible $CHOOL KILLS becomes Rih’s next sartorial venture, don’t start lining up yet. This is something like the celebrity equivalent of parking a Tumblr URL.