Trademark

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
goats, restaurants, trademark



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.

Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Hulser (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 7:51am

    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".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Travis, 20 Sep 2010 @ 9:21am

      Re: Couple of small errors

      As you said, the patent comment is a quote. All of Mike's commentary specifically says trademark.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Hulser (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 9:36am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 10:32am

      Re: Couple of small errors

      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".

      Yikes. Don't know how I made that mistake. Fixing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:02am

    I don't understand why anyone would want to eat in establishment that has goat crap on the roof. Seems a bit unsanitary to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      That was my first reaction as well.

      Perhaps this exclusionary legal canmunching might be viewed as public safeguard?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Restaurant Inspector Guy, 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:26am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Daryl (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 10:10am

      Re:

      I'm just asking so please do not think i am rude. But have you ever eaten at Taco Bell before? Not that i truly don't have a problem with Taco Bell, but they have a bad rep for good reasons of being a unsanitary place.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hulser (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:08am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hulser (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:23am

    One more. I couldn't resist...

    Well, there goes my ideas for a couple of movie sequals: "Men Who Stare at Goats on a Roof" and "Goats on a Plane". Ba dum bum!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Colonel Panik, 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:38am

    Lawyers on a roof

    Do you think I could get a patent on:
    Lawsuit as a business model?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nina Paley (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:40am

      Re: Lawyers on a roof

      Please do! Trademark, patent, whatever you need to eliminate "competition."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Berenerd (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:56am

      Re: Lawyers on a roof

      how much does it cost? maybe we can take up a collection and we can all go into "business". We can sue RIAA and MPAA and all these other idiots...then we will have money to expand ourselves into make stupid patents as a business model...BRILLIANT!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mjb5406 (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:41am

    Is this cruelty?

    There are pics of the goats on the roof on Flikr... no fencing around the roof to prevent them from falling off and getting injured or killed. Is this animal cruelty? Let's get PETA involved!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChrisB (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:50am

    This already exists in Coombs, BC

    Coombs (on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada) has had goats on the roof for years. I remember going there as a child because my grandparents lived in Qualicum Beach (just outside of Coombs). See their website:
    http://www.oldcountrymarket.com/
    "Home of the Goats on the Roof"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Steven, 20 Sep 2010 @ 8:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 20 Sep 2010 @ 9:14am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BBT, 20 Sep 2010 @ 9:23am

    Copy of the Cease & Desist letter here:

    Dear Sir:

    Enough is enough. I have had it with these motherfucking goats on your motherfucking roof.

    Very truly yours,

    Lars L. Johnson

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dustbunny44, 20 Sep 2010 @ 11:13am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doug Hall, 20 Sep 2010 @ 11:33am

    Meanwhile...

    Microsoft has sent a cease and desist letter to Lars Johnson. He has apparently violated their patented formula for making money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rob Crompton, 20 Sep 2010 @ 12:04pm

    too many lawyers

    Some years ago, in conversation with a friend who teaches law at a university here in S Wales, someone mentioned that their son was considering law as a career. Our law prof friend responded, "Steer him away from that. We're turning out far too many lawyers - that's why you get so many ridiculous court cases."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    hmmm, 20 Sep 2010 @ 1:34pm

    OK, I'm just going to come out and say it, since no-one else has:

    What kind of brain damaged moron says "oh look, there are ANIMALS on that there roof, lets go eat there?"......

    Unless maybe you order the goat meat curry, five minutes later hear a BANG! from above and your curry is ready 30mins after that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wayfinder (profile), 20 Sep 2010 @ 2:57pm

    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. ; )

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    gp, 20 Sep 2010 @ 3:47pm

    heres a new movie idea, goats on a plane, it wouldn't work as a horror movie, maybe a comedy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    gp, 20 Sep 2010 @ 3:51pm

    heres a new movie idea, goats on a plane, it wouldn't work as a horror movie, maybe a comedy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2010 @ 10:13pm

    Cats In The House

    "Goats On A Roof" actually got a trademark? What were those ninnies at the USTPO thinking? I am going to trademark "Cats In A House". Man, I am gonna so clean up.

    File under Trademarks > Vexatious Bullying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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