Hugo Boss Opposes Artist's 'Be Boss, Be Kind' Trademark For Merch

from the boss-baby dept

The last time we discussed Hugo Boss, the famed upscale clothier based out of Germany, it was when the company sent a C&D notice to Boss Brewing, which makes beer. While there can be no doubt that Boss Brewing would have won any dispute on the merits, given that the two entities are simply not playing in the same marketplace and there was zero chance of any kind of public confusion in commerce, Hugo Boss got its pint of blood by getting the brewery to change the name of two of its beers in a barely perceptible way.

In other words, there was no real or potential harm done to Hugo Boss over the target of its dispute, but these sort of trademark actions are more reflex than logic.

And here we go again, with Hugo Boss sending another notice to an artist who decided to trademark a phrase he uses to conclude his art lessons with for use on merch.

Father-of-one John Charles was hit with a threatening legal letter from lawyers representing the luxury fashion brand after he applied to trademark his ‘Be Boss, Be Kind’ clothing and hat designs.

The slogan, containing the word ‘Boss’, which in Scouse slang means ‘very good’ or ‘great’, was used by Mr Charles’ at the end of his online art lessons – which he launched during lockdown.

“Be Boss, Be Kind” is not “Hugo Boss”. In fact, given the part of the UK where Charles is from, “boss” is very much a common slang term for “awesome” or “the best”. That his following, those that enjoy his art lessons, would somehow suddenly think he had anything to do with Hugo Boss is absurd on levels rarely seen.

As for the contents of the letter, they weren’t overly aggressive. It states that Hugo Boss plans to oppose Charles’ trademark application, but would drop the matter entirely if he agreed to drop his application. The company has also stated publicly that they’re looking for an amicable resolution to all of this.

Except that no resolution is needed. There’s no confusion to worry about here. No trademark infringement. Charles is an art teacher who teaches children remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. As plenty of people have shown through public comments, this is nothing.

Hundreds of people have since spoken out in support of John.Many have since said that it’s ‘easy to see’ that Be Boss Be Kind has no connection to the German fashion giant. Other residents also agreed with John that the word ‘boss’ is a Liverpool saying.

On Facebook, Anne Porter commented: ‘Boss’ is a word 9/10 Scousers use with no connection to Hugo.’

PoliteScouser added: ‘Boss is a Liverpool slang word for the best. He has as much right to use the word from his local dialect as any other person place or thing.’

Despite this, Hugo Boss’ letter claims that its brand’s “goodwill” will be threatened if Charles gets his trademark. In my view, it sure seems like its the opposition that is hurting any goodwill the brand might have.

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Comments on “Hugo Boss Opposes Artist's 'Be Boss, Be Kind' Trademark For Merch”

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31 Comments
JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Boss is too mainstream a word.

Single words should not be eligible for trademark, only phrases. Plus, the phrase must be specific to an item sold by the company to the public. It may add a little to the cost of trademarking all the products some companies may sell, but it’s better than the alternative.

We not only have companies trying to lock up single words, but in a few infamous cases, single letters.

David says:

Re: Re: Boss is too mainstream a word.

So? Apple is an even more mainstream word than boss. Oracle is certainly an ordinary English term.

Here apparell is getting sold with "be boss, be kind" on it. How do you think you’d fare with selling computer malware with "be apple, be worm-ridden" as a slogan? Even though apples are worm-ridden?

And with regard to the brewery: Hugo Boss also produces perfumes and it would be rather detrimental if "phooey, you reek like someone spilled Boss on you" became a saying.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Boss is too mainstream a word.

How do you think you’d fare with selling computer malware with "be apple, be worm-ridden" as a slogan? Even though apples are worm-ridden?

If trademark law were applied correctly, and there were no references to Apple Computer, just fine. There’s no problem with just using the word "apple" on a t-shirt. However I have no confidence it would actually be applied correctly.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Boss is too mainstream a word.

"So? Apple is an even more mainstream word than boss. Oracle is certainly an ordinary English term."

Trademark law is explicitly restricted. Apple is fair to use unless you refer to apple computers, smartphones, or the peripherals designed for them. I’ll trust Ellison to go after anyone using the word "Oracle" just because evil, but even he’d find it hard going to apply it outside of an IT market. And Hugo Boss is pretty much reaching here. To be a boss, be bossy, be boss about, like a boss, etc, are all old well-established uses of the word. You could even argue that "smell like a boss" would pass. At least better than "smell like Boss".

And that’s not covering the fact that "Boss" in scouse – liverpool slang – has a similarly long well-established meaning all it’s own. What does an old slang word for "Be the best, be awesome" have to do with Hugo Boss?
For that matter what does the english word "Boss" have to do with the german company of Hugo Boss where that word is, in fact, a name without inherent meaning – as it contrariwise has in english and in liverpool slang?

I can imagine someone naming their child Oracle, starting a diaper line of the same name, then suing Larry Ellison over trademark violation using the exact same principle shown in the OP.
Hell, I could argue they tangent the same market, both mainly being full of shit.

David says:

Re: Re:

Hugo Boss, Coco Chanel, IBM, and any other persons and brands that collaborated with the Nazis should have been outlawed after WWII.

After WWII, everybody was a resistance fighter or powerless victim, in Germany itself and elsewhere. (West) German democracy was rebooted mostly using the same personnel and populace, just with new Constitution and laws.

It may be rather disconcerting, but the result has proven more resilient against populism than a number of other European countries and certainly the U.S., never mind the huge initial overlap in responsible persons with the Nazi administration (except the very top layer that had to be skimmed like mould on marmalade).

And let’s not forget Henry Ford’s important contributions to antisemitic sentiment in the 1920s where he significantly promulgated the Jewish World Conspiracy theories, preparing the ground for the Nazi ideology and takeover.

It may feel good to separate the world into good and bad after a won war. But it’s comparatively empty symbolism.

David says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In war, everyone loses.

And most of all, the truth. Afterwards, reality becomes simpler again.

For that reason it is rather frightening that the U.S. populace currently works from two utterly divergent sets of truth promulgated by different politicians and their news organisations.

Let’s hope that they don’t become so incompatible that one has to be removed in a civil war.

TasMot (profile) says:

Because trademark owners now want to own each and every word in their trademark, not just the trademark phrase. So, "Be Boss, Be Kind" and "Hugo Boss" both contain the word boss. Since the Hugo guy was first, he want’s to own EVERY use of Hugo or Boss. Just because they got money.

When are trademark offices going to start denying these types of applications? The trademark was on Hugo Boss, not Hugo and Boss.

There must be a lot of lawyers in trademark offices that just want to keep their buddies (lawyers and judges) working at high billing rates.

Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

Has Hugo Boss?

I’d be kind of open to let the past rest in cases where companies produced SS-uniforms 80 years ago. Probably nobody that worked there then, works there now and they changed their idol from Hitler to Mammon, so let it go.

However, recently they did make me annoyed with a commercial that used the word integrity. I can’t remember the actual phrasing but they claimed it (integrity) was important. I’d think that, seeing their checkered past, they might steer clear of statements like that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"Has Hugo Boss?"

The company issued a formal statement of apology in 2011, and the majority of its current product lines did not exist during the Nazi period. I’m not sure what else they can do, except perhaps change their name to remove the reference to the original Nazi supporter – something which perhaps should have happened when it was rebuilding itself after the war, but is going to be very difficult to implement now.

"I’d think that, seeing their checkered past, they might steer clear of statements like that."

But, as you rightly note, that past was likely before anyone currently working for the company was born. Is there a time when they can do things that reflect their current identity rather than the identity it had during their grandfather’s (or even great-grandfather’s) childhood, or is the company forever unable to avoid being labelled differently?

It’s an interesting question – the company most certainly had a past that profited from death, but the current company does not leverage any of the things that it did during that time as far as I’m aware.

Is there a point where the company that grew out of a Germany that rebuilt itself away from the sins of the past, then as a unified country opposing both fascism and communism is more important than their war record? Or, are the successes in the 72 years since Boss’s death always irrelevant because the man once aided an evil empire before his disgrace and removal?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"Or, are the successes in the 72 years since Boss’s death always irrelevant because the man once aided an evil empire before his disgrace and removal?"

Depends on what name that company operates under. Would you trust Goering Aviation or Himmler Accounting for instance?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"Would you trust Goering Aviation or Himmler Accounting for instance?!"

I’d ask why they have those names, but the company’s modern day conduct is more important. Nobody’s attacking Ford because of the questionable views of Henry, and IBM didn’t even have to change their name after helping to automate the holocaust. So, I’d likely act toward them the same way as I do Ford, IBM and Hugo Boss – the history is unfortunate, but if the current day business has almost nothing to do with that past then that’s not a major concern.

The question is return is why you think that a name is all that matters, and if you’d be easily fooled into doing business with Himmler Accounting, had they changed their name but not their business model..

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

" So, I’d likely act toward them the same way as I do Ford, IBM and Hugo Boss – the history is unfortunate, but if the current day business has almost nothing to do with that past then that’s not a major concern."

I’d like to agree with you on that score…except the argument would then ask why the US is currently having fights about removing name plaques and statues of people who have been long dead, from public and private places alike. I mean, slavery was abolished centuries ago. No one talks about Tulsa today, right?

I’m not sure I’d like to give the hypothetical "Nathan Bedford Forrest hemp and rope" company a pass, for instance, even if they today were running soup kitchens for the poor in black neighborhoods. Or for a company to happily tote the name of an active and prominent Nazi no matter what they do today. It sends a message.

If black people are rightly concerned about the city park flaunting a statue of Robert E. Lee you might want to ask whether the Israeli have views on the name of the man who gave the SS, SA and Hitlerjugend their image still being shown in glorifying commercial advertising. Anti-semitism is far from dead and the fact that wearing the perfume and clothes marked with the name of a well known nazi improves your social impression probably doesn’t send the best message. Or, for that matter, retaining Ford’s name on one of the most popular car brands in the US.

I’m honestly staggered Ford wasn’t prosecuted under the trading with the enemy act. And yes, it would do americans a lot of good – and their vehicle industry – to quietly bury the Ford name completely and just refer to that company as "General Motors".
The case may be murkier for IBM who come off as war profiteers. They might claim they supplied technology identical to what they sold to the US and the allies but that’s a pretty flimsy defense.

"The question is return is why you think that a name is all that matters"

The name isn’t all which matters, but when you glorify a name or symbol you also send a message. You may want to talk to the residents in Harvard’s Mather Hall about that, or ask the faculty about the Harvard crest being dropped.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"why the US is currently having fights about removing name plaques and statues of people who have been long dead"

The reason is manyfold. Since the civil rights act and the southern strategy, racists have used those things as symbols for their cause. There’s a lot of "patriots" who seem to cling to the people and symbols of the last round of traitors to the US.

As new protests and riots about civil rights and racial inequality have increased in volume and number, many of the public have started to notice these statues and symbols and are asking why the country is expected to honour racists and traitors. Especially since many of these things were not erected until the last civil rights fight started.

I’d say the same thing today – many people either don’t know or don’t care about Hugo Boss the person, they only know the brand that bears his name. Hell, I’m not even sure many people know that it is a real person it’s named after, let alone his history, such is the level of curiosity in the general public today.

I’m sure they would change their name if there’s enough public outcry or commercial damage by keeping it as it is now, but given that the modern brand was built well after the man’s death it doesn’t seem to be a major concern at the moment.

I don’t doubt that some people are uncomfortable seeing the name around, but a billion dollar brand isn’t going to ditch their name on a whim, and there’s not been the public outcry in the last 60 years to get them to rename it while they were building it.

"I’m not sure I’d like to give the hypothetical "Nathan Bedford Forrest hemp and rope" company a pass, for instance"

That means nothing if they’re doing brisk business from people who do give it a pass.

"You may want to talk to the residents in Harvard’s Mather Hall about that, or ask the faculty about the Harvard crest being dropped"

I’m not familiar with this story and a quick Google doesn’t seem to list any controversy, so maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Do you have a link?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"I’d say the same thing today – many people either don’t know or don’t care about Hugo Boss the person, they only know the brand that bears his name."

That does make "lest we forget" ring hollow. It’s a european failure to remember the same way Disney and Ford were whitewashed in US history.

"…such is the level of curiosity in the general public today."

And truly, in the eyes of the church the mentally impoverished are beautiful. As true today as it was back in the 13th century.
At times I speculate that if an advanced civilization were ever to visit earth we might see "Independence Day" playing out just because any hypothetical galactic concensus would be that no one needs pseudo-sentient vermin around.

"That means nothing if they’re doing brisk business from people who do give it a pass."

Yeah, as it turns out there’s at least 72 million americans who might feel moved to support a business over the name alone so I’d be surprised…
…good grief, there’s an actual state park with his name on it in Tennessee…and in 2019 the Tennessee governor declared July 13th "Nathan Bedford Forrest Day" to honor the KKK founder. Apparently a state law mandates this be done each year and no one’s ever thought of changing it.

Stick a fork in these people, they’re done.

"I’m not familiar with this story and a quick Google doesn’t seem to list any controversy, so maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Do you have a link?"

Yeah. Google "Harvard Law School scraps official crest in slavery row" and "Mather House Exhibit Scrutinizes Slaveholding Namesake’s Past".

As it turns out quite a number of outstanding US universities still proudly display some rather dubious symbology – like Harvard’s official crest being that of Isaac Royall, a notoriously cruel slaveowner whose claim to fame is burning 77 of his slaves alive.
A number of it’s houses, halls, and commemorative plaques have historically savvy black students raise eyebrows and/or take steps back.

Yeah, I’ll back on old Hugo. At least the university of Münich and various german institutes aren’t proudly flaunting swastikas and reich names among its benefactors. Aside from possibly GEMA which hasn’t noticeably changed since Hitler created it to "monitor" the arts.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"That does make "lest we forget" ring hollow"

I’m sure the teachers are too busy teaching people about what the people wearing the uniforms did rather than the guy who designed them.

"It’s a european failure to remember the same way Disney and Ford were whitewashed in US history."

They haven’t been whitewashed, they’re pretty well known, at least among people I know. It’s just that two people being anti-semetic dickheads before a person’s parents (or maybe grandparents) were born doesn’t have a great deal to do with choosing a new product today. Similarly, lots of people choose IBM despite knowing the help they gave to the Nazis – because the modern benefit of the PC overrides something that someone else did generations ago.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 If you think Hugo Boss is bad...

J. P. Morgan, who has perpetuated countless atrocities in the US, still has a banking institution with his name on it. Truth in advertising, as it’s just as cruel, relentless and dishonest as other banking institutions like BofA and Wells Fargo.

I think my favorite story (though not necessarily the worse of his crimes) was to buy substandard rifles rejected by the US Army before the civil war for a song and then sell them back to the Army after Civil War broke out, at inflated prices. We don’t have exact counts of US casualties by weapons failure, but its a number not insignificant.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The epidemic of Nazi ideologies

"I’d be kind of open to let the past rest in cases where companies produced SS-uniforms 80 years ago. "

Hrm. Let’s see how this passes the direct analogy litmus test;

"Hitler Art supplies – currently 20% off on white, red and black."

"Goebbels Radio Shack – a volksempfänger in every home. Who said Radio was dead?"

"Wernher von Braun fireworks – ‘We shoot up ze rockets, who cares where zey come down…’"

I think if you want the name of the man who produced the uniforms of the SS, the shirts of the SA and the hitlerjugend cub scout uniform representing your company then that name in itself brings baggage.

They do have a claim that they’re the one-stop go-to for anyone who wants the fashionable and classy evil look, and I’m sure some Very Fine People might want a few stylish lines on their bedsheet cloaks and hoods, but if that part of the market wasn’t what they were going for, why retain that name?

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