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ConVol3-1782221A rose by any other name might still smell nice, but when an Italian noble family licenses its name to market cosmetics products, can it still use that name? This question and the complicated marketing implications that it has for a pair of competing companies are the central topics in a case reaching the courts this month.

In the 1950s, Princess Marcella Borghese, the descendant of ancient Roman rulers—as well as a pope—started a line of eponymous high-end cosmetics; in the mid-1970s, she entered into an agreement with Revlon, which purchased the rights to “the words and phrases BORGHESE, MARCELLA BORGHESE, PRINCESS MARCELLA BORGHESE.” Revlon has since sold that license and the associated trademarks, and Borghese Inc. now functions as an independent manufacturer of cosmetics and related products.

But Princess Marcella was not the last Borghese, and her son and his family continue to use their family name. That might be fine, except these family members learned the cosmetics business too, so they sell a line of personal care products through HSN and offer a parallel product line of pet products under the brand name The Royal Treatment. Because publicity surrounding these brands inevitably features the names of the founders, the current owners of Borghese Inc.—who are not members of the family—worry about trademark infringement.

The concerns became even more prominent when Princess Marcella’s grandson Lorenzo became a popular media superstar by starring on the reality series The Bachelor. ABC, which airs The Bachelor, promoted Lorenzo as a real-life prince and the descendant of the princess who started Borghese Inc. This move prompted Borghese Inc.’s CEO to issue a warning letter to Lorenzo, reminding him that he was not allowed to imply that he was connected in any way with the company.

Except for his name, of course. The family insists it is not trying to infringe on the company’s trademark, but also that it has no plans to give up its noble name or its efforts to build its own businesses. Confused yet? That’s exactly what Borghese Inc. is worried about!

Source: Christine Haughney, “Borghese v. Borghese: Battle for a Royal Name,” The New York Times, June 15, 2013