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.