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:

And? So the hell what? Inspiration in the form of a single word does not a trademark violation make, because that would essentially lock up the courts for years as everyone fought roughly everyone. There’s a reason trademarks, especially those on short phrases or common words, aren’t all-encompassing throughout all of commercial use. That would break language completely.

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!

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Companies: chobani

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Comments on “Author To Chobani: I Own The Word 'How'”

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nemo227 (profile) says:

Re: Re: the 1970s

Is that when too many people seriously started smoking dope and taking LSD?
And then they became lawyers (because lawyers like to argue) and those lawyers became judges and the ones who were left without a lawyer job or judge job decided they should sue somebody because there were too few dope heads left to argue with?

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because our legal system lets anyone sue anyone else for anything, with no recourse if their case has no merit.
Instead of throwing this case out, a judge should say it’s absurd, suspend or disbar the lawyer, and fine the company and the lawyer. Since the yogurt company didn’t do anything to deserve money, the fine should go to a legal defense fund.

Then the judge should make sure to set a precedent so anyone who tries to sue over a common word will get a smackdown.

yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Holy frijoles! The USTPO gave this guy a trademark on the word “HOW”. I thought he was making it up. Nope. Here they are!

However. I did notice that the trademark is all uppercase.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I did notice that the trademark is all uppercase.

I didn’t. From the links you kindly provided:

Mark Information

Mark Literal Elements: HOW
Standard Character Claim: Yes. The mark consists of standard characters without claim to any particular font style, size, or color.

I’m reading “without claim to any particular font style, size, or color.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Trolling... we hope

Of course this guy is just trolling, and isn’t actually serious (well lets hope anyway). In fact, the whole thing sounds a little fishy. Nonetheless it could make for an interesting case on trademark abuse.

I also wonder what kind of drugs the people at USPTO were smoking when they approved a trademark on “HOW”

Anonymous Coward says:

So this is HOW civilization ends....

Not with a bang or a whimper but with armies of lawyers, legislators and greedy asshole rentseekers claiming ownership of everything until it all collapses. I’d say they’re like goddamn toddlers but that would be a grave insult to toddlers constantly saying “Mine!” everywhere.

TAKUMI says:

Re: Re: Re:

I thought the intended word was “purport”. I knew portend usually meant “predict”/”warn of” and I looked it up but couldn’t really find any other meaning except “imply in a ‘smoke = fire’-type way”.

I dunno, it may have been used in the sense of “implying that corporate virtue advisors are an actual thing, which does not seem like a good sign”.

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