Celebrities and entrepreneurs will trademark almost anything, whether it’s their name, their product’s name or even just a catch phrase. But some companies will go to great lengths to protect their brand by opposing any trademark that seems remotely similar to their own. Here are 15 of the most bizarre trademark battles we could find.
Photo Credit: cytech
It started as a nickname to pick up girls, but now it’s at the center of an ongoing trademark battle. Mike Sorrentino, a cast member on MTV’s (Stock Quote: VIA) Jersey Shore reality show, is also known as The Situation, the nickname he gave his abs. But earlier this month, two requests were filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the name. One request comes from a South Jersey guy looking to use the phrase on bathing suits, underwear and other merchandise. The other comes from the owner of several porn Web sites who also wants to stick the name on underwear. Not ridiculous enough? Well, the porn guy happens to be Sorrentino’s brother, Marc. Now that’s a complicated situation.
It really is a wonderful lesson for kids today. If you are sleazy enough to give your abs a nickname, you better trademark it too so you can profit off your sleaziness.
Photo Credit: zazzle.com
It has been a great year for the New Orleans Saints, but just before the team won the Super Bowl, they were caught up in some bad drama. Fans, excited by the Saints’ performance in the postseason, started churning out more merchandise that feature the phrase “Who Dat,” the team’s signature slogan. But the NFL tried to stop businesses from selling these shirts. According to USA Today, the league spokesman “emphasized that people can use ‘Who Dat’ all they want if it doesn’t include NFL and Saints trademarks.” But many took issue with the NFL for acting as a “corporate bully” and limiting the ability of fans to express their devotion. The NFL eventually dropped the issue, forced to admit that they don’t own the exclusive rights to the phrase or to the Saints’ team colors (black and gold.)
Photo Credit: trumanlo
Steve Jobs and Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) took decades to perfect the release of a portable computer that would compete with netbooks and e-readers. But then they made one strange choice: to call it the iPad. As it turns out, Fujitsu had already trademarked the iPad back in 2003 for a mobile phone. What’s particularly strange is that two big tech companies are competing for the rights to a terrible name that most women immediately associate with feminine hygiene. This is one trademark battle that’s not even worth fighting. But then again, Apple has a long history of trademark fights…
Photo Credit: apple.com
Apple vs. Apple
For years, Apple was in a never-ending trademark dispute with Apple Corps, The Beatles’ record company, for use of the name Apple. This is what happens when you decide to name a company after the word that pops up at the beginning of children’s alphabet books. In any case, both companies finally came to an agreement in 2007 to halt their legal battle. Apple Inc. (the Steve Jobs variety) now owns the trademark and has agreed to “license certain of those trademarks back to Apple Corps for their continued use.”
Photo Credit: kimubert
Paris Hilton was amazingly allowed to trademark the phrase “That’s Hot,” but only when it’s used in certain situations. (For example, you don’t have to ask her permission to exclaim it while drinking scalding hot coffee.) According to CNN, her trademark applies when the phrase is used on clothing, electronic devices and alcohol. But there is just enough gray area to lead to some complications. Last year, Hilton sued Hallmark because of a greeting card that used the phrase next to a picture of her working as a waitress. Hallmark has argued that the phrase is being used to refer to food, but Hilton argues the trademark should stand up since it occurs alongside her likeness. The decision is still pending.
Of course, none of this may matter much in the long run. Hilton is a fickle person, and has since shifted away from saying “That’s Hot” and switched to “That’s Huge!” Classy.
Photo Credit: christopherharte
The Special Olympics
For the past few years, Chicago teen Lauren McClusky has organized an annual charity concert called McFest (after her last name) to raise money for the Special Olympics. In 2008, McClusky applied to trademark the name, but McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD) quickly challenged it, arguing it infringes on their existing trademarks for a wide range of Mc-Names. She has since been forced to spend money on legal fees that could otherwise have been donated to the Special Olympics. As Wallet Pop notes, there is a good chance McDonald’s will win this trademark battle, though they will pay for it in their tarnished public image.
This isn’t the first time McDonald’s has fought to protect the use of its prefix...
Photo Credit: akeg
McDonalds fought for eight years against a small family restaurant in Malaysia that wanted to call itself McCurry. The fast food giant considered this to be an infringement on its brand, but eventually, Malaysia’s high court ruled that the restaurant could use Mc in its name, as long as they “distinguished their food from McDonalds.”
Photo Credit: Leonid Mamchenkov
In 2007, Martha Stewart tried to trademark the word Katonah to use as the name for her new collection of home accessories. Katonah is the name of a town north of New York City where Stewart owns a house. But the Katonah name is an integral part of the heritage of American Indians, and they considered her trademark application to be offensive to their culture. As one member of an advocacy group told Fox News, “"If I wanted to trademark 'Martha Stewart' and put out a line of tea towels, she would have me in court very quickly.” Forget about whether or not it’s good business, that’s just a terrible way to make friends with the neighbors.
Stewart eventually settled with the American Indians by restricting the number of goods she would sell under the Katonah brand name. As it stands now, the Katonah collection can only include furniture, mirrors, pillows and chair cushions. We're not really sure how that is much of an agreement.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org
Save the Earth (or Not)
Honda advertised saving the world and got blasted for it. Last year, they ran a commercial in which one actor wore a T-shirt that said “Save the Earth.” Though it might seem benign, the environmental group Save the Earth announced it was suing the car company for trademark violation. Apparently, they are concerned that Honda’s use of the trademark may imply that the environmental group has endorsed the company and their cars.
Photo Credit: danielalonso
North Face vs. South Butt
Last year, North Face, a popular chain for outdoor apparel, faced an existential threat: South Butt. Jimmy Winkelmann, a college freshman, started this small clothing company as a parody of North Face, but the latter quickly threatened to sue him for trademark infringement. Winkelmann wasn’t too upset about it though, because the incident served as a fantastic free promotion, which gave him a nice sales boost.
Photo Credit: powerbooktrance
Ugg boots may be a big fashion statement in America, but the stylish shoes actually started out in Australia. Deckers Outdoor bought the rights to Ugg Holdings, an Australian shoe company back in 1995, and with it, acquired the trademark for Uggs. However, a few years ago, the BBC reported that Deckers actively monitors their trademark, and has cracked down on many small Australian companies that continue to make Uggs. The problem is that in Australia, the word “ugg” is very commonplace, like using the word “shoe” here, so it’s a tough word to ignore.
Photo Credit: UggBoy
It’s one of the most famous American names, but difficult to use without violating a trademark. In 2007, Sam Adams (Stock Quote: SAM) decided to run for mayor of Portland, Ore. A local radio station decided to buy up two Web sites, samadamsformayor.com and mayorsamadams.com, and offered to give them to Adams if he appeared on their show. It was a clever way to get some press, but then Boston Beer, the owners of the Sam Adams brew, insisted that the Web sites be shut down, claiming they violated their trademark of the Sam Adams name. Apparently, they didn’t learn until later that the sites were based around a real person named Sam Adams, and not their brand.
Photo Credit: wickenden
Sex and the City
Don’t mess with Sex and the City. A few years ago, a New Yorker started a fitness business called Health and the City. Not a terrible name, but when she applied to trademark it, HBO, the company that puts out Sex and the City, claimed she was stepping on their trademark. HBO eventually backed down.
Photo Credit: Ce-acatl
Tony Hawk, the skateboarder, is such a commodity that even his name is a trademark. But a few years ago, he apparently overstepped his lines when he launched a skateboarding tour under the name “Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huckjam.” Apparently a small toy company sells a product called the Huck Doll, a phrase that they’ve also trademarked. Oh well, it’s a dumb name for a tour anyway.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org
Quacking Like A Duck
Who says all trademark battles need to revolve around actual words? Sometimes, it’s the sound that matters. One California-based tour company called the Bay Quackers encourages its customers to make quacking noises with a kazoo. It may seem harmless (and a bit weird), but it turns out there’s another tour company in the area called Ride the Ducks that not only does the same thing, but has actually trademarked any quack “created by a yellow-bill shaped kazoo.” (This is actually called a sound mark.) Ride the Ducks sued the Bay Quackers to stop their deceitful duck noises.
Photo Credit: spratmackrel
Tell Us Your Stories
Have you or your company ever been involved in a trademark dispute battle? Or did we miss an infamous trademark battle that you love? Feel free to let us know in the comments section!
Photo Credit: daoro