As the famous psychic Van Praagh perhaps predicted, he can pursue claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition against his sister for using their same last name as she seeks to build business touting her extrasensory talents — or so was the divination of a federal district court on Long Island, N.Y.
Since 1994, James Van Praagh has used his name and surname in conjunction with his spiritual medium services. He has produced TV’s Ghost Whisperer show, tangled with legendary broadcast host Barbara Walters, appeared on numerous television shows, written books, and has become a well-known practitioner of his craft.
In 2010, his sister Lynn began using the last name “Van Praagh” as she promoted herself with similar services, even trying to ride the coat-tails of her famous brother by touting on her website that her siblings are known to have gifts. Of course she long had gone by the name Lynn Gratton, since she was married in 1970, so had she desired to make it as a spiritual medium on her own, she had other name options, other than relying on the family moniker of her famous brother.
In 2012, he trademarked use of his full name “James Van Praagh.” He claims to have an unregistered mark for “Van Praagh” and under New York law that is all he needs for a dilution claim. Unlike federal law, New York law does not require a famous mark to be protected for such a claim. To prevail on a claim for trademark dilution, plaintiffs must prove that: 1. The mark is famous and distinctive 2. The mark is used in commerce by the defendant. 3. The defendant’s use is likely to cause dilution through blurring or tarnishment. U.S. District Judge Arthur D. Spatt said it was plausible that the sister’s website and promotion of herself in sessions around the U.S. may blur and infringe on Van Praagh’s mark. The court denied her motion to dismiss Van Praagh’s state and federal infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition claims.