The Oatmeal Sued Again - This Time For Trademark Infringement
from the odd...-a-lawsuit-with-some-merit...-who-knew? dept
The comic teamed up with the company that owns the Papyrus chain of card and gift shops, Recycled Greetings, to sell paper greeting cards of his Web comics via the The Oatmeal's Web store, along with other novelty items. But that caught the attention of Oatmeal Studios, a Massachusetts greeting card company that says it's been selling greeting cards under that name for 35 years. Oatmeal Studios sued Inman and Recycled Greetings, claiming a trademark on the phrase "Oatmeal Studios." In a complaint filed in Boston federal court earlier today, Oatmeal Studios says that Inman's use of The Oatmeal is too similar, and likely to confuse consumers, who may believe the businesses are related.As Ars Technica notes, the suit lists only one count of trademark infringement and doesn't ask for any specific dollar amount in terms of damages. The filing asks for an injunction prohibiting The Oatmeal from selling any products or services that are similar to Oatmeal Studios' offerings, along with statutory damages. Inman has not responded publicly to this lawsuit, other than posting a link to Ars Technica's story on his Facebook page.
However, the company bringing the lawsuit has commented on its actions, basically stating that Oatmeal Studios is simply protecting its core business against a larger competitor.
We are a small New England Greeting Card company, founded 35 years ago in Vermont by a woman who loved to design cards and her husband. Oatmeal was the name of their pet rabbit. Over the years they steadily built the business through hard work, and today we have over 2100 outlets nationally, including many small local stores as well as bigger chains.Unlike Carreon's desperate (and often comical) legal flailings, Oatmeal Studios very likely has a legitimate case. The Oatmeal's greeting card sideline isn't some informal DIY project. Inman's working with Papyrus-Recycled Greetings (the co-defendant), a division of American Greetings, to produce his line of cards. And while some may argue that Inman's distinctive drawing style would be unlikely to be confused with an unrelated card company's output, this is likely only true for Oatmeal (the comic) fans. Oatmeal Studios also specializes in humorous greeting cards, many of which utilize hand drawn cartoons. As a long-time reader of Techdirt, I can safely say this is one of the saner trademark suits we've covered.
The Greeting Card industry is very competitive. We were alarmed to hear recently that one competitor, a large greeting card and gift company (and part of one of the world’s largest publicly traded Greeting Card companies), announced the introduction of a new line of cards, "The Oatmeal", to be sold nationally to many of the same customers we serve. They clearly have infringed on the rights that our original founders worked so hard to create decades ago. So, we sent a cease and desist letter and filed a complaint to address this issue. This large company has known about Oatmeal Studios® and competed against us for years, and we are simply trying to protect our name and defend our rights.
So far, Inman has remained quiet on the subject. The lawsuit contains the usual boilerplate claiming "intent to deceive," but at this point, that doesn't seem to be the case. This could be chalked up to lack of due diligence before diving into the greeting card field, "safe" in the assumption that no one else was actively using the word "Oatmeal" to sell cards. If there are more details in the background, it seems they won't be revealed until the suit proceeds. Inman is being uncharacteristically quiet, but then again, this isn't another edition of Charles Carreon's three ring legal circus.