Author To Chobani: I Own The Word 'How'
from the how-do-you-figure? dept
It’s amazing what fun we can have when we really get a culture of permission going. Trademark law, ostensibly built around the idea of consumer protection when it comes to branding, has since devolved into a platform where certain entities think they can essentially own certain common words and phrases, such as “emergency essentials“, or “footlong“, or “monster.” However, once you’ve opened the door to that kind of relatively minor insanity, it lets the really crazy monsters through.
Let’s take, for instance, the word “how.” You can’t own “how”, right? Well, according to the lawsuit of Dov Seidman, who portends to be something called a “corporate virtue advisor”, you damn well can.
In papers filed in Manhattan federal court, Dov Seidman, author of “HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything,” says how Chobani is using “how” in its current marketing campaign is a blatant rip-off. Seidman and his company, LRN, “whose business is based on promoting ethical corporate behavior, own federal trademark registrations for word and mark HOW,” the suit says.
Let’s just drive this point home, shall we? A purveyor of business ethics is suing Chobani, a company that makes Greek yogurt, because they used the word “how” in a marketing campaign. Just let that sink in for a moment. The fight is over a single word, not some multi-word phrase. Hell, it’s over a single syllable. And customer confusion is difficult to imagine, given that one side of the fight is a guy that talks to companies about who-knows-what and the other, you know, makes yogurt. So, how is this suit even possible? Well, it apparently falls upon a time when Chobani tweeted at Seidman to flatter and admire him.
The company has since claimed the campaign is purely coincidental, but Seidman noted that he got a Twitter message from Chobani on January 29 saying, “Thanks for inspiring the world to care about ‘how.’ Can you help inspire the food industry, too?” The “very next day,” the suit says, the company “launched Chobani’s new branding platform – which employs ‘HOW’ in precisely the same manner as plaintiffs employ their HOW marks: as a noun connoting responsible and ethical corporate behaviors.”
Here’s the tweet:
— Chobani (@Chobani) January 29, 2014
Chobani is on record stating that this whole thing is exceptionally silly. One would hope a court will throw this out the moment it hits a bench. And how!