Travelers Insurance Rains Down Trademark Disputes Over Any Use Of An Umbrella Anywhere
from the all-wet dept
Pop quiz, buck-os! True or false, a billion-dollar insurance industry giant and a miniscule human resources consultant in Alaska are competing in the same industries and marketplaces? You said false? Hmm, in that case, try this next one on for size. Are you able to tell these two company logos apart from one another?
Were you able to tell the difference between the two? Yes? You weren’t confused by the fact that both company logos included an umbrella? Or the fact that both logos had, you know, words? Then congratulations, you did better than the legal team at Travelers Insurance, currently standing behind the threat letter they sent to Norm Denison, owner of Human Resource Umbrella LLC in Anchorage, Alaska over the use of the umbrella in his logo.
“Why is some big corporation picking on some little person in Alaska who doesn’t compete with them?” Mr. Denison recalls thinking. The property-casualty insurer has gone to great lengths to stop other companies from hoisting umbrellas as logos. Since 2007, Travelers has challenged at least 30 trademark applications across a range of industries, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records. Among its targets have been a California program to improve children’s health, an antivirus software firm, a Polish nutritional-supplement producer and even the umbrella-making Totes Isotoner Corp. It also has gone to federal court to protest rival insurers’ umbrella use.
“Mary Poppins might want to consider lawyering up,” quips Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry attorney with White & Williams LLP.
Stop giving them ideas. Travelers predictably declined to comment beyond claiming that it is operating within the law surrounding trademarks, which is absolute nonsense. There has to come a time when those of us that pay attention to these stories stop allowing the blanket assertion that trademarks must be protected or lost as a catch-all excuse for corporate douche-baggery. Valid trademark infringements must be protected against, not any trademark likeness in any small way. What Travelers has done is to assume that it owns the right to put an umbrella in a logo. That’s simply incorrect. But, because of Travelers’ size, it has the ability to bully smaller companies in unrelated industries, and all just for fun I suppose, because an HR consultant in Anchorage just simply isn’t a threat to the insurance giant. Hell, there’s nothing particularly special about an umbrella in a logo anyway.
Travelers is an unusual case because it is asserting a degree of ownership of a generic item that also is a popular symbol of protection and other qualities that a range of businesses want to promote, say some brand experts and lawyers.
“So what’s next? Requesting that Rihanna issue a disclaimer that she’s not referring” to insurance when she sings her “Umbrella” hit? asks Missouri-based trademark attorney Morris Turek.
Stop giving them ideas. The post goes on to list several other victims of Travelers’ trademark strong-arming, as well as to note that the umbrella logo only became the property of the company in 2007, long after it had spun off of Citigroup. And, while it paid Citigroup an undisclosed sum for the logo, that doesn’t give Travelers’ the right to pretend like umbrellas are theirs and theirs alone.
Now, both Travelers and Denison have since resolved the “dispute”, with Denison agreeing not to put a red umbrella in his logo (oh, the horror if he had) and to agree not to use his logo to promote insurance services, which, again, he’s an HR company, not an insurance company. All this trading paper, emails, and lawyer-speak to arrive at the same conclusion as you did in the opening of this post: the two companies aren’t in the same industry and the logos aren’t all that similar. Thanks for the huge waste of everyone’s time, Travelers…