Monday, October 29, 2012

Trademark controversy over Frank Kameny's "Gay Is Good"

The estate of the late Frank Kameny is claiming that Frank’s “Gay Is Good” slogan has trademark protection, and the estate sent a cease-and-desist letter concerning the use of the phrase in the name of an LGBT website launched recently by Christopher Dyer.   The full name was “Gay is good, make LGBT great”.  But apparently the total name applied just to the name of a Facebook page (link) .

The Facebook page was set up for expressive, and non-commercial purposes (although Facebook probably can make advertising revenue from it). 
The Washington Blade story by Lou Chibbaro, Jr. is here

Christopher Dyer has his own account of the matter, for “National Coming Out Day” here

The “Make It Better” project video is here. 

The USPTO has the trademark registered as serial 85676494

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Ole" and "Old" country stores

More mischief on my part.  Today, as I drove north on US 29 south of Culpeper, VA, I noticed a billboard sign, “Ole Country Store and Bakery” for Culpeper. VA (near Madison).  The closest link seems to be here

Now, Cracker Barrel Restaurants has the sub-brand name “Old Country Store” (the actual word “Old”).  See GLBT blog, Aug. 27, 2012. 

How many small businesses are there around the country with names like this based on common phrases.  Will these present more trademark problems as franchises get bigger and hungrier for profits?  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

By happenstance, I notice two "Stray Cat" cafes, when "on the road"; Does "Romney" really favor small business?

On Friday Oct. 19, 2012, as I was leaving the Potomac Eagle scenic railroad attraction near Romney, W Va, I noticed a sign for a “Stray Cat Café”.  I drove three miles east of Romney on US 50, and found the establishment in a large strip mall on a hill above the highway (it’s hard to see from the car on Rt 50).  It appeared to feature Mexican fare.  Since I had recently eaten lunch on the excursion train, I didn’t stop for dinner.

This restaurant caught my eye because in Arlington VA, in the Westover shopping center along Washington Blvd, there is a “Stray VCat Café” a few doors down from a “Lost Dog Café” , which I reported (here on July 28) as involved in a trademark dispute with a “Lost Dog Coffee” business in Shepherdstown, W Va, perhaps 50 miles NE of Romney, still in the Potomac Highlands area of the state.

The website for the Arlington business has the original URL name, here

I have eaten there before, and recall mainly American fare.

The website for the Romney business has a different URL with the word “Romney”, here

Curiously, the only trademark that I found on the USPTO website is for a business in Keyser, W VA (30 miles from Romney), more logically related probably to the Romney business, serial 74451611, registration number 1866076.  

I honestly don’t know if the businesses are separate or share a trademark license for the name from a common owner, or whether the USPTO recognizes the name as not unique enough to be restrictive, even within on industry. (Note the comments on the USPTO record.)  But if these businesses can operate separately in different states with the same name, why wouldn’t the same be true of “lost dog”?  It’s easy to sit around and imagine other reproducible names for restaurants and bars; how about “Stupid Kid”?   It would seem that the Trademark Dilution Act of 2006, however, might make businesses repeating names in other states more vulnerable (perhaps not an intended consequence).

Wall Street likes franchises, and American law tends to encourage them, with restrictive use of brand names for retail and food/beverage businesses especially.  That state of affairs tends to encourage individuals and families to consider franchise business ownership rather than trying to set up their own brands.  That means that someone “owns” a business but must follow the practices of the branding or franchising company closely.  This could never be my own cup of tea.
It seems that the trademark question invokes a deep philosophical question about the balance between small and big business in the economy. Neither major political party (they both talk about small business) has come clean in talking about this issue, as both are beholden to political contributions from large corporations.  It’s ironic that this little field observation occurred in a small city with the same name (Romney) as the GOP presidential candidate.  What would he say about trademarks, franchises, and small businesses?

This problem is a “bricks and mortar world” issue.  It could have occurred before we had the Internet.  But in older times, people were less likely to remember businesses in other cities.  I discovered this “stray cat” by happenstance.

I recall a dispute between and an “Amazon Book Store” in Minneapolis back in the late 1990s. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Patent trolls go after e-commerce sites with "look and feel" of patented programmed scripts

Here’s the latest wrinkle in trolling:  A Texas company DDR Holdings, has won judgments (in federal court?) against other companies for infringing on its way of creating an online store, in this case, Digital River and World Travel Holdings, and sued at least seven others.

It’s a little hard to see that a retail e-commerce site that has the “look and feel” of a patented e-commerce technique (dating back to the days of the Web 1.0 dot-com bubble) could really be so vulnerable to trolls.

The Ars Technica story by Joe Mullin, dated Oct. 12, 2012, is here

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Companies often use the same marks without the public noticing

Just casual autumn walks in different towns shows that related businesses, especially bars and restaurants, sometimes use the same name.  Getting a domain name can be complicated for the second-comer (not exactly “second-hander”).

In Washington DC, in the Logan Circle area of 14th St., I pass a “Blue Moon”  sign on a restaurant.  I've also seen another similar circular sign farther up 14th that looks like the name of a drink. (I don't know my drinks because I'm not ready for "clown questions.")  In Rehoboth Beach, DE, there is a gay club (pretty well known nationally) by the same name.

I pass a tour bus with a white letters on red “ING” symbol (for "ING Tour").  I have no idea if this has any relationship to the global Dutch-owned finance company ING (my last “main” employer), which usually uses its trade dress with a lion as part of the image, and usually uses the slightly less garish color of orange (remember how grade school readers were color-coded?).  ING is active as a life insurer and bank in the US, and there are even some upscale apartment buildings in Washington DC managed by a real estate venture with the same mark. (As for the ING Lion, take note the next time you're in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.) 

I don't know how much bearing all this would have on the "Lost Dog" controversy.

Update:  "Blue Moon" does seem to be the name of an ale.  I saw it the other day in a Safeway.  Again, I don't hang out around happy hours as much as Nolan Ross in "Revenge".