I am a practitioner of trademark law and I can attest that it is often a sea of angst and confusion. I'm also a fan of both the late Captain Beefheart and the late Frank Zappa … there's a little bit of angst and confusion there as well.
Thus, I am fascinated by the fact that Zappa's widow Gail just secured a notice of allowance on her intent to use application for the trademark "Captain Beefheart" (Serial No. 85695177). (I have written about Gail Zappa before: http://tripaldredgelaw.blogspot.com/2012/12/selling-zappa.html).
Ms. Zappa is seeking registration in several U.S. classes that include everything from "audio and video recordings" to "electronic games software" to “sunglasses”. (Captain Beefheart sunglasses ? Cool!).
I don't claim to know the whole complicated history between Don Van Vliet (p/k/a Captain Beefheart) and the Zappas. I know that Don and Frank were high school friends, I know that Zappa released Trout Mask Replica and I know that there was some legal wrangling over the original master recordings to the album Bat Chain Puller which was recorded in the 1970’s but which went unreleased until 2012.
I can't tell how Zappa would have acquired the rights to the trademark in sound recordings and other classes for the Captain. California has a very good right of publicity statute which would seem to give Vliet’s heirs a right to exploit his name, image and likeness after his death. What about all of the other Beefheart recordings that were released on labels other than those controlled by Frank Zappa?
There may be a simple explanation to all of this and the explanation may be that it is none of our business. Or it may be one of those interesting areas where the laws of intellectual property and state property and probate laws intersect. Stay tuned.