Man Claims Trademark On 'Goats On A Roof'

from the morons-in-a-hurry-or-goats-on-your-roof dept

Reader t-dogg points us to a WSJ story highlighting the ridiculous situations that come out of trademark law these days. Apparently Lars Johnson, the owner of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant, trademarked putting goats on your building to attract customers. You see, Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant has a grass roof, and Lars has goats climb up there to graze. It’s a nice stunt, though, it does seem a bit questionable from a trademark standpoint. Just because one business uses goats to attract customers, is there really a likelihood of confusion that any other business that also uses goats is somehow associated with the first business? That seems unlikely. It’s like saying only one restaurant can put up neon signs. Still, Lars’ lawyer believes that his goats on a roof trademark is pretty strong, and they think any food-based business that uses goats to attract customers is worth going after:

Any business that sells food and uses goats to lure customers may be violating the trademark, says Lori Meddings, the restaurant’s lawyer.

Naturally, this leads to some ridiculous situations where Lars and his lawyer are concerned about goats randomly attracting interest:

In July, Virginia news outlets reported that goats on a hillside routinely hopped onto a platform under a billboard advertising two International House of Pancakes restaurants. Drivers pulled over to snap pictures, and one IHOP manager was quoted saying he enjoyed the publicity. Mr. Johnson says his lawyer is monitoring the situation in case “they take it a step further.” Lisa Hodges, who manages one of the restaurants, says she doesn’t plan to intentionally use the goats for marketing. “We can’t help it that they climb up there,” she says.

Read that again, and let me know if that’s how trademark law should work. Oh, and it’s not just live goats. Apparently fake goats get Lars’ goat up as well:

Mr. Johnson says the restaurant’s Milwaukee law firm has sent letters to other alleged offenders, such as a gift shop in Wisconsin with a fake goat on its roof. It removed the ersatz ungulate.

The story notes that since the goats on a roof trademark doesn’t extend to other countries, goats on roof restaurants have shown up elsewhere — and a Canadian goats-on-a-roof restaurant owner has decided not to trademark his own version. Instead, he prefers to compete in the market place, noting that his restaurant has “a lot more to offer than what’s on the roof,” and, anyway, he claims his goats are bigger.

This is what we get when we live in an age where people think trademark is property that they can use to prevent others from doing things.

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Comments on “Man Claims Trademark On 'Goats On A Roof'”

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Hulser (profile) says:

Couple of small errors

Hey Mike. I think there are a couple of small errors in the post…

The story notes that since the goats on a roof patent doesn’t extend to other countries, goats on roof restaurants have shown up elsewhere — and a Canadian goats-on-a-roof restaurant owner has decided not to trademark his own version.

The text above appears in the quoteblock, but it looks like it’s actually part of your post. Also, the article does specify “trademark” and not “patent”.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Couple of small errors

As you said, the patent comment is a quote.

I don’t think it’s a quote. I think it’s a paraphrase that just uses the wrong word. The word “patent” appears nowhere in the linked article nor does the “The story notes that…” section. This is what lead me to believe there was too much in the quote block. It’s not a big deal. Just an honest mistake.

Restaurant Inspector Guy says:

Re: Re:

The restaurant where you are eating has bird crap on the roof.

I also find it amusing that you’re concerned about feces on the roof, when every restaurant I’ve ever inspected has at least a few rats, and *those* crap in the *kitchen*.

That’s not a hygiene or sanitation fail, BTW, unless the rat crap exceeds the local allowable amounts.

Hulser (profile) says:

Trade dress

From the linked article…

“The restaurant 14 years ago trademarked the right to put goats on a roof to attract customers to a business.”

This seemed very odd to me. I can see where you could trademark a logo with a goat standing on a roof, but I didn’t think that trademarks could protect an actual goat standing on your business’s roof. I don’t know if the terms are commonly interchanged, but the article later clarifies that the protection for goats on a roof is actually “trade dress”, not trademark. And at least from a quick googling, it does appear that trade dress would legally cover the goats on the roof in the way the owner claims.

But no matter what you call it, it does seem plain silly that something like this would be protected. Is there really likely to be any consumer confusion if the goats are standing on your roof and right under your roof is the name of your business?

Steven (profile) says:

Coombs: Been there - loved it as a kid

It used to be my favourite restaurant to go to when my folks would drive south from Courtenay. Last time I went there, though, it felt touristy. I don’t know if that’s due to changes in the restaurant or just me getting older and grumpier… but yeah, it’s been going on like that for at least 28 years.

@mjb… In BC we drive goats into the mountains on cliffs hundreds of meters high. Living on a roof is peanuts for Canadian goats.

Dave says:

Stew Leonards Has been doing this for years

Well I thought I’d never see the day.

Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, CT has had live goats for more than 15 years in their little “Farm” outside of the Store.

Every Summer, they have had goats, ducks, chickens and other farm animals.

The goat(s) routinely are on the roof of their barn. Eating the leaves off of trees. This has been happening for at least 15 years. This is probably my favorite part of the whole store. This is what keeps me coming back to Stew Leonard’s time and time again.

I bet they’re next to be sued.

How ridiculous.

dustbunny44 says:

How far?

If you can trademark goats on a roof…
My business serves eggs in the morning. I’d like to trademark that so that any other business can’t serve eggs in the morning and affect my brand.

Just an extreme example. I can anticipate the responses, and they can apply in varying degrees to “goats on a roof” and many other copyighted/trademarked nonsense.

Wayfinder (profile) says:

Goats are trademarkable?

There is one primary thing that this person fails to understand: he did not create goats, so he cannot trademark them. He can trademark a specific representation of goats. He can trademark the use of goats in a specific name. He cannot trademark goats, on a roof or otherwise. He did not invent goats. He did not invent roofs. His goats were not the first to ever climb on a roof. Goats on a roof are pretty much public domain, meaning imo he cannot claim Trademark.

What I would like to see is the first time he tries to enforce his trademark… and learns a little bit about countersuit law for harassing lawsuits. He’s not the only person who can wield a legal hammer. ; )

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