Trademark Musings

Thoughts on trademark issues by Laura Winston

Hashtag Hijinks

I was a little annoyed yesterday by the April Fool’s jokes I was finding over the internet.  My LinkedIn homepage suggested J.R.R. Tolkein and Sherlock Holmes as people with whom I may want to connect.  And the bar graph on my blog stats page said I got ten times the page views that I really received (if only!).  But trademark infringement humor?  Now that’s funny!

The background – there’s a rapper named Chris Webby, and there’s an internet awards show called the Webby Awards.  And a hashtag is – well, it has something to do with Twitter.   (You can follow me on Twitter @LauraWinston.)

The law-related gossip blog Above the Law posted a story entitled “Cease and Desist Letter of the Day: Who Owns Your Hashtag?”   The story described Chris Webby’s objection to the Webby Awards’ use of the hashtag #Webby, and linked to rapper Webby’s cease and desist letter which the awards Webbys had posted on Tumblr (which now is emblazoned with “April Fools”, but wasn’t until late yesterday).  I was falling for the story until I saw the letter.  Although it contained the language of a serious cease and desist letter (I wonder what real letter they copied), the giveaways were that (1) there was no address of the sending law firm (and I’d never heard of the firm, which turned out to be fake), (2) the registration numbers for US trademark registrations that rapper Webby claimed to own were too high (they were in the 4 millions and we’re only up to the high 3 millions, as only a trademark nerd like me would know), and some of the classes of goods in which they were ostensibly registered were ridiculous – class 4 (industrial lubricants and fuels) for example.

But I WAS fooled in this way – I believed that Above the Law thought the story was real when they posted it.  Turns out they were in on it all the time and had a second post late in the day to this effect.  My apologies to Elie Mystal, the Above the Law editor and author of the posts, for thinking he was that gullible.  

Of course, there is rampant concern about trademark misuse and infringement in social media among trademark owners and practitioners.  That’s why the last sentence of Above the Law’s reveal post has an ominous feel: “It might have been a joke today, but the first hashtag infringement suit is surely just around the corner.”

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Do Pork, Salmon and Unicorns Have in Common?

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for the National Pork Board.  For years they have been calling pork THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.  Presumably, that along with the reduction in fat (and unfortunately taste) in some pork cuts has led to people consuming more pork.

I guess the salmon folk got tired of pork seeing all the action, so Supreme Lobster and Seafood Company filed an application to register the trademark THE OTHER RED MEAT for “fresh and frozen salmon”.   Not quite sure why a fish that’s supposed to be so heart healthy with its Omega-3’s (let’s overlook the pollutant and antibiotic issue for now) would want to try to call to mind “red meat” in its advertising.   It’s really the opposite purpose of the Pork Board slogan.

Pork filed an opposition to the trademark application, and on June 11 the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board sided with THE OTHER WHITE MEAT.  The case is a big deal because the TTAB did not think there would be any likelihood of consumer confusion, but they believed there was a likelihood of dilution of the trademark by blurring.   (Dilution, a much-debated topic, is based on the idea that even if consumers will not think that 2 trademarks come from the same source, the presence of one will weaken the other’s brand.  Think “McDonald’s Car Wash” and “FedEx Crackers”, 2 fictional examples.)

So score one for pork over salmon, but pork may not be so lucky against unicorns.  The Pork Board recently sent a cease and desist letter to ThinkGeek.com, which on April Fool’s Day launched its new product, canned unicorn meat.  Packaged like SPAM, ThinkGeek called it “the new white meat” as well as “an excellent source of sparkles”.  It took the Pork Board 12 pages to tell ThinkGeek that it had better cease as well as desist.  Having read the Harry Potter series, I know the dangers of drinking unicorn blood, so I think I would avoid the meat as well.  And I hear unicorns really get mad when they’re compared to pigs.

July 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment