The Family’s Good Name

Alex Van Halen and his brother Eddie formed Van Halen, the world-renowned band, in 1974. Since then, a number of others have joined the Van Halen family, most notably lead vocalists David Lee Roth and later, Sammy Hagar. But there’s another group of people can rightfully use the Van Halen name — Alex’s and Eddie’s wives. Both men have been married multiple times with mixed results, creating Van Halens along the way. For example, in the 1980s, Alex married a woman named Kelly Carter, but in 1996, the couple divorced. But Kelly was now Kelly Van Halen.

This would lead to a problem seventeen years later. In late 2013, Alex Van Halen — well, his band, kind of — took Kelly Van Halen back to court. It wasn’t a custody battle and, in fact, had little to do with their marriage or divorce. At issue was whether Kelly could claim to be a Van Halen any more — commercially-speaking, that is.

There’s no question as to whether Kelly Van Halen’s last name is legally “Van Halen” (it is) nor whether she obtained that name in order to free-ride off the fame of the band (she didn’t). So when Kelly Van Halen went into business for herself, she made a prudent and easy choice — she named her company after herself, as many do. Kelly Van Halen owns the eponymous Kelly Van Halen line of luxury lifestyle goods.

In January of 2010, the former Mrs. Van Halen’s company filed a trademark application for the term “Kelly Van Halen,” aiming to use her legal name as the branding for her line of throw pillows and blankets and cover-ups. The band’s intellectual property rights-holding corporation, “ELVH, Inc.” saw this as a violation of the band’s rights, and in October of 2013, filed suit against Mrs. Van Halen. ELVH argued that, since 2004, ELVH and the band have held a trademark on the Van Halen name as it pertains to clothes, and, in its complaint to the court (pdf) asserted the following:

Defendant’s goods are apparel, blankets and other fashion accessories. They are either identical or closely related to the goods sold by Plaintiff or represent a natural zone of expansion for Plaintiff and such goods would travel and be promoted through the same channels of trade for sale to, and use by, the same class of purchasers.

Apparently, Van Halen the band considered items like these throw blankets to be confusingly similar to the band’s commercial activities — not the music, necessarily, but stuff like this t-shirt. And that may, ultimately, be the issue that determines who wins (if the case doesn’t settle). As one legal blog concluded in its exploration of the issues before the court, the fact that Kelly Van Halen’s last name is, legally and rightfully, “Van Halen,” may not matter all that much in the end. Because when people hear the words “Van Halen,” they typically think of the band — even if the product being sold is a decorative pillow.

According to the public filings in the case, as of May 2014, the parties consented to mediation, with no record of a resolution. As of this writing, Kelly Van Halen was still operating her business under her married name, as evidenced by her company’s Facebook page.

Bonus Fact: David Lee Roth was the lead vocalist of Van Halen from 1974 through 1986 (and in various, seemingly infinite reunions since). Roth, despite not being a member of the family, has took credit for naming the band in his 1998 autobiography. Roth believed that that the words “Van Halen” had a certain gravity to it, one which would resonate with listeners and fans; the rest of the band (two-thirds of which were actual Van Halens) agreed.

Double bonus!: Roth probably shouldn’t have been the lead vocalist of Van Halen — he didn’t get there on talent, at least initially. Apparently, Roth’s auditions for the role weren’t all that great. According to Guitar Player Magazine (republished on Van Halen fan site, neither Eddie nor Alex Van Halen were impressed by Roth’s try-outs, and had against bringing him on board. But Roth owned a PA system which the band was renting out. To save money, the brothers Van Halen decided to bring Roth into the band — so they could get free use of his equipment.

From the ArchivesBrown Out: Why Van Halen doesn’t like brown M&Ms in its dressing room.

RelatedCrazy from the Heat: David Lee Roth’s autobiography.