What's Your Problem? Apparently, It's Misusing Trademark Law

from the try-again dept

Nick Burns writes in to point out the latest misuse of trademark law — not just for profit, but as a publicity stunt. As has been discussed way too often, trademark law is supposed to just protect consumers from confusion (that is you can’t sell some other soda and call it Coca-Cola, as that will confuse people). It is not to give the trademark holder complete control over the use of the trademark — which is why we can mention Coca Cola and not get sued. Unfortunately, in this age where so many people are trying to expand intellectual property rules simply for profit, rather than to support what they were originally intended to support, we hear all sorts of silly stories. Usually, these stories are about companies or lawyers thinking they can extract some extra cash from someone, but this latest one is an extra creative misuse of trademark law: it’s completely being used as a publicity stunt. It starts with a woman who has some little known, little watched public access TV program, where she’s trademarked the phrase “What’s Your Problem?” Apparently, a recent episode of the TV show Boston Legal used that phrase in commercials showing on ABC (owned by Disney). The woman is now suing ABC/Disney for misusing her trademark, as if anyone in the world would somehow be confused into thinking Boston Legal was associated with her show. About the only reason to do such a thing is to try to get extra publicity (which apparently worked), but with stories like these clogging up the court system it’s a problem for everyone.

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Comments on “What's Your Problem? Apparently, It's Misusing Trademark Law”

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Russell Cole (user link) says:

Democracy needs transparency in both the political

I think that the expansion of copyrighting applications when it comes to both the use and distribution of products of human inventiveness – especially with respect to internet and computational devices – is disconcerting and runs in contradistinction to the values which have guided human inventiveness successfully in the various scientific disciplines. The hording of knowledge is of no ones benefit. Furthermore, the hording of technological and scientific insights prevents the application of these paths of analysis to be broadened and enhanced by fresh perspectives that might invent new applications that would remain unutilized if not for openness and transparency with regards to human thought.

I am not advocating a state where all knowledge belongs to the commons, and all knowledge is, to use programming terminology, open-sourced. Nevertheless, copyrighting should be limited as much as is possible; just enough to ensure it is still profitable to conduct research and development, but not expansive to the point of stifling further research that might stimulated by the original findings.

Russell Cole

Hairball says:

Re: Democracy needs transparency in both the polit


*sifting more*

Ok. I just finished sifting through all that bullshit and can’t figure out what you said. You must be using the Russel Cole Abridged dictionary and grammatical guide.

Anyway. This yet another completely pointless story. I read these stories from the front page of google and just might cease to do so. Imagine that. Another person being an absolute moron. For money. I must say, I have the feeling that my time was wasted by replying to one idiot that replied to another idiot. And all the idiots that were involved with this story.

Seriously. Take after Slashdot. Not just you Techdirt. But the NY Post as well. Write a story that we care about. It just might stimulate people with an intellect a bit higher than Russ’s here.

farlane (user link) says:


I’d been waiting all year for Acerbic Day and here I find I’ve gone and missed it.

By all means, Hairball, let’s go somewhere and anonymously bash the droogies for failing to deliver news that we think is important and tell them to be like the 3 other sites that are exactly the same.

Why this story is important:

1. It demonstrates the “gaming” of the legal and media systems for cheap exposure. Kind of like the guy who changed his name to Kentucky Fried Cruelty except that we can still eat animals. An interesting tactic. Less’n of course ABCD countersues…

2. It provides a cautionary tale, allowing us to ponder what would have happened if Boston Legal had trademarked the phrase and sued the cable lady.

3. It wasn’t just the same old piece of tech gossip drug out of the big trough at high speed to impress all the other xboxers.

For me, that’s more then good enough.


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