A Sugababe vs some Sugababes

Mutya BuenaIt was way back in November 2009 that former Sugababes member Mutya Buena quietly applied to own the European trademark in the group’s name. So quietly that no one noticed until March the next year, when the application was marked pending by the trademark authority. That no one at the group’s label, Universal Music, or their management company had thought to register the name before was surprising, but the name was indeed up for grabs, and Buena felt, as a founder if not current member of the girl group, she was well within her rights to take it.

Buena was seemingly annoyed that the group, by then featuring none of its original members, was forging on in a new direction. One that was deemed less credible than earlier incarnations by many people, if not everyone.

The current Sugababes disputed that Buena had any reasonable claim to the name, and argued that Universal already technically owned it anyway, even though they hadn’t formerly registered it with the trademark authorities. Expanding on that claim, Universal released a statement saying that the group’s record contract – which bound current and past members – granted the company rights to use the name in connection to audio and video recordings. With all that in mind, the band and Universal both separately submitted objections to Buena’s application.

In the meantime, Buena hinted that she was planning to retire from music to become a child psychologist, and the Sugababes were dropped by Universal/Island and signed a new deal with Sony/RCA. Buena also hinted that she might abandon her trademark application and all went quiet.

But then this week Buena posted to her Facebook page: “I won the official name of the Sugababes now! I deserve this! I’m over the moon!”

Big news. If what she said was true, it would potentially mean that the current group would no longer be able to use their own name, not without paying Buena a royalty, at least. And that’s how many publications reported it, taking Buena’s status update at face value without checking the publicly accessible European trademark authority database. Doing that, however, showed it wasn’t quite as simple as the former Babe made it sound.

True, she had indeed been granted the right to use the name, but not in all instances, as she had originally applied for. In fact, those objections raised by the group and their label had been successful, and in April (while they were still signed to Universal/Island), the current line-up had been granted the trademark in almost all occurrences. Then earlier this month, Buena was granted what was left: stationery and giftwrap.

Writing sets and wrapping paper are not, as you may have already noticed, core to any pop group’s operations. And on Thursday the band’s management issued a statement to clarify the situation, in which they explained: “Over four months ago (21 Apr 2011) it was officially confirmed by the European Trade Marks Department that Sugababes were successful in claiming their ongoing right to use the name ‘Sugababes’ for all areas of commercial activity that the band requires, namely within the music, sound recording and entertainment industry, as well as being granted extensive rights to produce a wide range of merchandise”.

They added: “The trademark rights for Class 16 (excluding those items which are already covered by Sugababes merchandise, eg posters, stickers, etc.) include certain paper and cardboard goods, such as stationery, paper gift wrap and paper gift wrapping ribbons. This is a category that currently holds no commercial interest for the band and, accordingly, the band has no immediate plans to challenge Ms Buena for these rights”.

When I was young, I always got a writing set of some sort for Christmas, and all my presents were disguised with wrapping paper. Boy, the Babes and their people are going to kick themselves when December comes and Mutya cleans up. Kids still write on paper, right?

Originally written for CMU.

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