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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  • identicon
    S. T. Stone, 2 Jul 2014 @ 4:14pm

    How did this situation get this far?

    How did we become a society that allows such actions to happen?

    How did we completely fuck up IP law?

    How did things come to this?

    HOW?!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 4:34pm

      Re:

      I'M GON' SUE YA

      I'M GON' SUE YA SO GOOOOD

      Govern yourself accordingly.

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

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 4:35pm

      Re:

      The 1970s, that's how. If you look at the history, that's when intellectual property rights started their long trek towards complete insanity that culminated in the 1998 passage of the DMCA.

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

      • icon
        nemo227 (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 6:34pm

        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?

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

    • icon
      nemo227 (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 6:45pm

      Re: I know HOW and WHY

      He's trying to pump up his book sales. When you can get enough people arguing and talking about something you've done there will be a percentage who will take the bait and buy the book.

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

    • identicon
      Rance Mohanitz, 3 Jul 2014 @ 6:04am

      Re:

      I'm suing you for your use of "fuck" in this sentence. It is the exact same way I would use it.

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

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 3 Jul 2014 @ 5:49pm

      Re:

      How?
      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 4:15pm

    The lawsuit is ridiculous but on the other hand I'd fire whoever wrote that tweet in a heartbeat.

    On the third hand (I was born near a leaky nuclear power plant) who follows a freaking yogurt company on Twitter in the first place?

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

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 4:40pm

    This makes me want to ask, "Why?"
    ...
    but I'd better check first. It might be trademarked.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:02pm

    Find them in contempt, unless the court believes the time it has given is warranted.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:13pm

    I'm mildly impressed

    If you look at the brief closely, they managed to file the entire suit without using the word "how" except in the context of their trademark. I suspect this was rather difficult.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:17pm

    I wonder if this guy has a section on how to be a total jerk in his book about corporate responsibility?

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

  • identicon
    Zem, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:18pm

    The crazy part is HOW this lawsuit can readily be argued as unethical, the very thing the HOW trademark covers.

    I suspect the good dr has someHOW managed to sully his professional reputation.

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

  • icon
    yankinwaoz (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:26pm

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

    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=4210276&caseType=US_REGISTRATION_NO&searchType=statusS earch

    http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=4388331&caseType=US_REGISTRATION_NO&searchType=status Search

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

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:39pm

      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.
      Mark Drawing Type: 4 - STANDARD CHARACTER MARK

      I'm reading "without claim to any particular font style, size, or color."

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

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:47pm

    Question:

    So if I trademark the word 'THE' for use in the name of a yoghurt, that means no one else can use it in a book title ever again? And there's me thinking trademark law didn't work like that!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 5:48pm

    So how long till the entire English language is wrapped up in trademarks making it necessary to have another language just to communicate?

    Take about BS trademarks and this is one that should never have been given.

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

  • icon
    kenichi tanaka (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 6:15pm

    How did anyone get a patent for a common word in the first place? I thought the Patent and Trademark Office denies applications for common words such as "how".

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

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 9:32pm

      Re:

      The Patent and Trademark Office doesn't offer patents for words at all, common or otherwise. Trademarks, on the other hand...

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Jul 2014 @ 10:29pm

      Re:

      That sounds like it would involve thinking, and work, much easier to just get that 'APPROVED' stamp out and use it on every application in sight, let the lawyers fight over it later. /s

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 5:02am

        Re: Re:

        'much easier to just get that 'APPROVED' stamp out'

        Then I am going to trademark APPROVED and DENIED

        I may consider licensing if asked nicely but I may not.

        That should take care of all this patent and trademark nonsense that's been flying around recently.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Jul 2014 @ 6:18pm

    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"

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

  • identicon
    Jernau, 2 Jul 2014 @ 8:35pm

    What an asshowle.

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

  • identicon
    Jake, 3 Jul 2014 @ 1:15am

    'Culture of permission' strikes me as a misnomer, because it implies an a predisposition towards giving permission.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 1:36am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 5:04am

    I guess the only cure is to trademark 'trademark.'

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 5:19am

    Portends?

    What did you have to make up a new word since someone already claimed "pretends"?

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

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 3 Jul 2014 @ 5:57am

      Re: Portends?

      Portends is a word, chief....

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 7:35am

        Re: Re: Portends?

        So it is. My bad. However the context of the sentence seemed to me that you intended to use "pretends" instead and mistyped it. If fact from the look of this story, "pretends" seems to be a more accurate fit.

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

        • icon
          TAKUMI (profile), 5 Jul 2014 @ 2:58pm

          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".

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

  • identicon
    Crusty-the-Ex-clown, 3 Jul 2014 @ 12:11pm

    This might be explained by...

    ...either Mr. Seidman or his legal advisors having yogurt for brains.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2014 @ 8:16pm

    Can we get some Natives to declare "HOW" as offensive?

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

  • identicon
    Andre Leonard, 3 Jul 2014 @ 10:32pm

    Just when you thought you heard it all.

    This lawsuit really puts the 'F' in foolish.

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

  • identicon
    Anon, 8 Jul 2014 @ 7:10am

    The Trademark Should Have Been Denied?

    Don't native merican tribes have a historical claim to exclusive use of the word "How!" going back centuries? Anyone using "how" frivolously is guilty of hostile cultural appropriation.

    I know, because Hollywood told me so.

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


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