Here is a marketing conundrum. How do you brand a $575,000 specialty vehicle, built on a Ford truck chassis, that is designed to look like a tank? If you answered “Name it after General George S. Patton” give yourself a 21-gun salute. But here’s the rub—in one of the most astute tactical moves of his storied military career, Patton died in the State in the California which, as we have seen before, is especially solicitous of the eternal publicity rights of anyone who ever died on its soil. In a lawsuit filed the federal court in Los Angeles, the heirs and assigns of “Old Blood & Guts” have brought this heavy artillery to bear on U.S. Specialty Vehicles.
General Patton seems to be having one of his periodic revivals as a popular culture icon, having recently joined Jesus, Lincoln, and Kennedy as the subject of a Bill O’Reilly “killing” book. CMG Worldwide, his agent, is intent on preserving the cachet of this highly bankable property. In addition to claiming a violation of publicity rights, CMG alleges trademark infringement:
Defendants’ use of General Patton’s name, image and likeness in connection with advertising and selling the Infringing Vehicle was and is intended to deceive consumers and to cause consumer confusion and mistake as to the affiliation, connection, or association of General Patton with the Infringing Vehicle, and as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of the Infringing Vehicle by General Patton and/or his assignees. General Patton is not only one of the most famous military leaders in U.S. history; he also led the U.S. army’s first armored attack, and was an outspoken advocate for the use of tanks and armored vehicles in combat. Due to extensive media attention, including the well-known film “Patton,” the consuming public understands that General Patton is associated with tanks and armored vehicles, and would readily understand that Defendants’ use of “Gen. Patton,” “G. Patton,” and “GP” in connection with the Infringing Vehicle is a reference to General Patton.
This, I think, may be a bridge too far. Had the General licensed his name for a line of tanks and armored vehicles or been a spokesperson for such products in his lifetime (much as Bobby Jones did for golf apparel and Colonel Sanders did for fried chicken) that would be one thing. But I doubt his heirs have any better reason to complain than do the heirs of General William Tecumseh Sherman, who have never collected a dime off the Sherman Tank.