Business Promoting Children Reading Sues Schools Over Trademarks For Encouraging Reading

from the think-of-the-children! dept

We've occasionally seen instances in the past in which educational institutions are threatened with trademark lawsuits or actually go through them, though those suits usually feature the worst trademark bullies out there (hi, Olympics!). Rarer is seeing some small business owner pestering schools with trademark disputes. Still rarer are cases in which those businesses are actually involved in the business of trying to promote education.

Yet that's exactly what we have in the case of Springboards to Education, which has filed nine trademark suits against seven school districts, a non-profit, and a library.

The concept of incentivizing students to read across school districts in the Rio Grande Valley and around the state has recently taken an ambiguous turn as some districts are facing lawsuits claiming trademark infringement for using descriptions such as “Millionaire Reader” or “Millionaire Reading Club.”

So far, the defendants include the school districts of McAllen, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo, Mission, La Joya and Houston, as well as the public charter schools IDEA and KIPP. The education nonprofit Teach For America is also included, as well as the library supply company Demco. Each lawsuit presents evidence of Springboard’s owner and creator Johnny Lopez’s trademarks, which include the phrases Millionaire Reader, trademarked in 2012; Read a Million Words, trademarked in 2011; Millionaire’s Reading Club, trademarked in 2012; Million Dollar Reader, trademarked in 2013; and Feel Like a Million Bucks, trademarked in 2015.

We'll leave the non-profit and library aside for a moment, as I cannot say for certain that either are not engaged in any kind of commerce revolving around Springboard's trademarks. That said, the gall involved in suing schools for trying to get kids to engage in reading is matched only by the silliness of it. These schools should simply be able to stand up in court, inform the court that they are educating children instead of engaging in any sort of commerce, and that should satisfy the court as proof that none of them are competing in a marketplace with Springboard, rendering the trademark suit neutered. However, none of this kept Springboard from firing off a cease-and-desist letter to these schools, shortly before filing suit.

“It has been brought up to our attention that your school district, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, has been using the trademarks Millionaire Reader, Million Dollar Reader … and/or any combination of words similar to our client’s trademarks in association with the marketing or sale of your products,” the letter states. “We demand that you cease and desist in any further use of the Springboard Trademarks.”

At least one of the schools in question understands how trademark law works, it seems, and is preparing for the exact defense that I had recommended above.

The district has already filed a motion to dismiss the claims, said school district attorney Ben Castillo, adding the district is not using any of its materials for commercial gain.

“There’s no commercial gain,” he said. “School districts use these to promote students, not to make money. … We have stopped using that phrase once we received that cease and desist, so at this point in time we feel like there’s no damage to Springboard.”

Meanwhile, we now live in a world where a private business has sued a public school district in order to keep it from promoting reading to students in a specific way. Delightful.

Filed Under: education, johnny lopez, millionaire reading club, reading, schools, trademark
Companies: springboard


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  • identicon
    Will Braunfeld, 1 Sep 2016 @ 12:04am

    I Feel Like a Million Bucks

    ...this is a common phrase. It's been colloquial slang for feeling good, high-spirited, and cheerful for longer - I'd wager - than Springboards to Education has existed. Why in God's name are we putting trademarks on colloquial terms? Right up there with "X on a computer" patents in my mind.

    Should be careful, pretty soon "I'd wager" is gonna be owned by some casino, and "Why in God's name" will be trademarked by a church somewhere. If they haven't been already.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2016 @ 12:33am

    Is school funding based on student grades? If so then maybe one could argue they are using it to make money.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Sep 2016 @ 12:46am

    'Pyrrhic victory' comes to mind here...

    Yet another case where attempting to 'protect' a trademark instead tarnishes it more than any amount of infringement of it could have ever managed.

    Somehow I don't imagine any of those on the receiving end of these legal threats, or who hear about this will be interested in the slightest in having anything to do with Springboard, now or at any point in the future, so congrats on your stellar PR campaign there Springboard, you (hopefully after a stunt like this) positively wrecked your own reputation for the low cost of a few C&D's and lawsuits.

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

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 1 Sep 2016 @ 1:11am

    Incentivizing Is Teh Key

    This business is all about incentivization. The schools are deincentivizing the business from pursuing it's core business of incentivizing the students to read. So really its just a perfectly normal case of antideincentivizationalism, nothing more.

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

    • icon
      Derek Kerton (profile), 1 Sep 2016 @ 10:03am

      Re: Incentivizing Is Teh Key

      I like what this commenter wrote. And, moreover, am impressed that, judging by the title, it was written by a cat.

      I'm pretty sure there's an image of that here
      http://goo.gl/fmyDx9

      I would like to nominate it for best cat comment of the week.

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

  • icon
    TRX (profile), 1 Sep 2016 @ 4:50am

    A smarter company would have sent their lawyers to get some kind of "co-branding" or joint marketing contracts and turned "infringement" into profit.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2016 @ 4:56am

    10 sec google search.

    How about a basic search for prior art.

    http://ers.dpsk12.org/MillionWords.aspx


    The Million Words Campaign started in 2002, when then DPS Superintendent Jerry Wartgow asked all students to read one million words a year. Wartgow noted that the Million Words Campaign would help meet district goals.

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 1 Sep 2016 @ 8:03am

      Re: 10 sec google search.

      Well, sure. Millionaire Reader from 2001 also. You can Google their newly trademarked terms along with a random year before they trademarked them, and find plenty of examples of their use.

      And "Feel Like a Million Bucks, trademarked in 2015".... Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

      Springboards to Education is a parasite. A scam. And not an original one; the practice of trademarking popular phrases has been around a long time thanks to the notoriously incompetent USPTO. Consider for example:

      Wikipedia: Let's roll

      The phrase is well-documented to have been in popular use for many decades, for example Cary Grant using the it in a 1938 movie. But when it was used on 9/11, more than a dozen applicants rushed to trademark it.

      The Todd M. Beamer Foundation was eventually granted a trademark for uses of the phrase relating to "pre-recorded compact discs, audio tapes, digital audio tapes, and phonograph records featuring music."

      And since the Florida State Seminoles were using the term, they had to license it from the foundation. Because apparently college football can be mistaken for CDs and tapes.

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

    • identicon
      Over it., 12 Sep 2016 @ 9:29pm

      Re: 10 sec google search.

      Are you serious? We're talking Trademark here...not patent. There's no such thing as prior art. If anyone understood Trademarks at all there would be none of this idiotic discussion on this thread. Springboards Trademarked the phrases, formed a profitable company and campaign, it was stolen by people working for the schools and companies that were sued, and the company was damaged. Springboards deserves to get its profits from its hard work and success. Just because thieves hide under the cloak of government (public schools) doesn't mean Springboards shouldn't be able to recover. If people would bone up on their IP knowledge, there'd be none of this senseless drivel. Also, misquote above--there wasn't a motion to dismiss all claims, it was just the state claims...not that anyone probably understands what that means...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2016 @ 6:59am

    "You can't encourage students to read! They might be confused and think it's us encouraging them to read!"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Sep 2016 @ 7:03am

    Just another money grubbing asshole looking for a government subsidy.

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 1 Sep 2016 @ 7:38am

    Feel Like a Million Bucks, trademarked in 2015. [facepalm]

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 2 Sep 2016 @ 5:57am

    the accumulation of wealth over everything else should be treated as a disease imo. these types of people should be sequestered away from the general public and examined by doctors to figure out how to help with this serious mental illness they have.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2016 @ 4:04pm

    Reading and writing is for freetards. Don't do it.

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


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