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What’s in a name ‘Borghe$e’?

Coat of arms of the House of Borghese

Depending on one’s background and taste, ‘Borghese’ is associated with different things: Italian papal history, art collection in Rome, Napoleon’s sister, cosmetics, reality show “The Bachelor” and, now, an expensive legal suit Borghese Trademarks Inc. et al v. Borghese et al, 1:10-cv-05552-JPO over who has the right to be associated with this old Italian surname.

The dispute can be traced back to Princess Marcella Borghese, mother and grandmother of the Defendants and the founder of a cosmetics line now-owned by the Plaintiffs. The issue in dispute is who may use the name and the family history for marketing purposes.

In the 1950s, Princess Marcella co-founded a Borghese, Inc. As reported in the New York Times, “For decades, the Borghese family and the Borghese cosmetics business coexisted with little dispute.” In 1976, the rights, title and interest in the Borghese cosmetics brand, including the use of the words and phrases ‘Borghese’ were purchased by Revlon. Princess Marcella died in 2002. Her heirs, namely her son Francesco and her grandson Lorenzo, started their own beauty product lines for humans and their pets, under unrelated names, including ‘Orlane,’ ‘Elariia,’ ‘La Dolce Vita by Prince Lorenzo Borghese.’ They were however trying to capitalize on their lineage Current owners of the Borghese’ trademark warned Lorenzo that he should stop “causing any false impression in the marketplace that there is a connection or relationship between yourself and Borghese Inc. and our cosmetics products.”

Borghese Defendants.

Trademark law is intended to prevent consumer confusion, thus infringers of valid trademarks may be prohibited from using them. There are ample cases finding in favor of trademark holders, particularly those who’s personal names are trademarked, for example Donna Karan New York or Disney Style. However, this case is of particular interest because the purported infringers are descendants of the noble family and they do bear the actual name of Borghese.

The question is which connection would be sooner presumed Lorenzo’s with the cosmetics company founded by his grandmother, or the company’s connection to the Marcella’s family. Reportedly Marcella’s heirs have already spent about $4 million in legal fees on the case that was filled in 2010 and has yet to come to trial. Are the consumers to think that a perfume line marketing for any other name would give off a different odor?

Source: The New York Times.