Monday, October 06, 2014

New trademark between book author-consultant and food company over the word "How"

There is now a legal trademark battle between two entities over using the word “How”, as in a front page New York Times story today by Jonathan Mahler, “Of the Word ‘How’ Is Trademarked, Does This Headline Need a (trademark symbol)?” link here

Book author Dov Seidman, of “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything” is suing large Greek yogurt manufacturer Chobani for its “How Matters” logo on its products, claiming trademark infringement. Seidman says, this is not a "how to" book, but a "how" book.  (No, it wouldn't fit the "For Dummies" trademark, either.) 

The story indicates that Seidman has a business, LRN, advising companies on ethics.  There is a question as to whether the trademark applies mainly to the book, or to a wider service.  Normally, a single book or movie title cannot be trademarked, but a series (like “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games”) can.  There is obviously a question, as the article points out toward the end, whether consumers would confuse the brand that connotes a service (or book title) with yogurt or a food product.  Common sense tells me that most consumers would not be confused.  The USPTO allows the same trademark wordmark to apply to different businesses.  

I have only one Chobani product in the house right now, and it doesn’t have the mark.  The next time I go to the supermarket, I’ll look for it so I can get a better illustration. I just came back today but didn’t know about this case until just now.

I’ve just ordered Seidman’s book from Amazon.  It has an introduction by Bill Clinton.  I’ve got two other books in my queue right now (one on Ebola, one on OBE’s) but this looks pretty important.  At least both companies got me, a consumer, to buy one unit of each to see what the fight is about.
As I’ve explained here before, I have three books in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series (1997-2000; 2002; 2014).  I have not applied for a formal trademark, assuming it is a common phrase.  I would have an issue if another book series (or a motion picture series) was based on this phrase, so maybe I need to look at this again – since I am getting ready (finally) to push screenplays and film videos based on the book material. (Yes!)   I don’t think there is an issue if a psychological counseling service or particularly HIV-prevention forum wants to use it.   The phrase has a somewhat universal political and social meaning now, even if much of the original is came as the negation of the now repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military.   (What if it were “Don’t Ask, Do Tell?”)