WikiLeaks founder Assange applies to trademark his own name

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Following Sarah Palin’s lead, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has applied to trademark his name. Many have been surprised by this move, not expecting the infamy arising from WikiLeaks, and the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him to result in a desire to trademark his name. He has applied for registration in connection with “public speaking services” and “entertainment services”.

Trademarks for celebrities

As discussed in my earlier blog on Sarah Palin’s decision to trademark her name, this practice seems to be increasingly common among celebrities. Assange’s decision to follow suit may be attributed to his high profile, but in light of his pending extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual misconduct (unless successful on appeal), the timing seems unusual to some people.  Others find the very idea of his application for exclusive rights strange when juxtaposed with his efforts to increase freedom of information.

David Allen Green has commented, “It’s a bizarre thing for someone associated with freedom of information to do“.  Mark Stephens, Assange’s Lawyer, counters “it’s not about restricting free speech. It’s not that he’s out there trying to make huge amounts of money. It’s about protecting himself from being associated with things he doesn’t know about or approve of”.  

 Reasons for trademarking his name

Some, more skeptical of Assange’s motives, believe the move to be a way to make money rather than purely a way to protect his reputation. They see it as a way for him to protect the commercial potential of his name. After having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on his legal fees Assange is in need of funding to keep WikiLeaks afloat, even signing a $1.3 million deal to write his own autobiography. He explained in an interview with the Sunday Times that “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent $200, 000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself to keep WikiLeaks afloat”. 

Although Assange is in need of funds to pay his legal costs, Stephens has indicated that the trademark application was not made with the aim of making money, explaining that the trademark has been made in a “not for profit category”.

An associate of trademark attorneys Grant Spencer, Abida Chaudri, says “ I suspect the application is more to do with his going it alone and using his WikiLeaks website to publish material”.  Despite his tenuous legal position at the moment with his possible extradition to Sweden, Assange seems set on continuing as the public face for leaks.