from the dead dept
When I drop dead of a massive heart attack, it will be because some huge company has bullied some small company over a ridiculous trademark that never should have been granted in the first place. The examples for this sort of thing are legion around Techdirt, but it still gets me every single time. The Trademark Office has done such a poor job of turning even the barest of critical eyes towards trademark applications that all sorts of short and common words have been granted trademarks all over the place, including in industries where it was plainly insane to grant them at all.
The latest of these concerns a small family-owned supper club in Maryland and the threat letter it received from an enormous casino company over the trademark it had somehow received on the word "live."
The Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club in the 7700 block of Wisconsin Avenue was opened four years ago by owner Rick Brown. He envisioned a grand supper club on the scale of the famous Copacabana nightclub and wanted to preserve a landmark that had personal meaning to him and his family. After more than 900 concerts and 240,000 customers over four years, he decided to change the name of the business to Bethesda Live, attempting to attract a wider audience and let people know they have more than just blues and jazz acts.
Within days of announcing the name change, Brown got a letter from an attorney representing Maryland Live! Casino, ordering Brown to cease and desist with the name change and threatening legal action if he continued. The letter said, “Live! Holdings, LLC is the owner of the registered trademark ‘Live!’ and we are writing to object to your company’s contemplated use of ‘Bethesda Live’ in connection with an entertainment facility in Bethesda, Maryland.”
Yes, Maryland Live! Casino is asserting it has a trademark on the word "live" for use in the entertainment market. Put yourself in the chair of someone at the Trademark Office, if you can. You see an application for the word "live" to be used in the entertainment market. If you can picture yourself taking any course of action other than laughing maniacally as you light the application on fire, then it appears you're just the sort of person the USPTO is hiring, so go send in your resume. The rest of us will be facepalming over here, because that's not just a common word generally, but a word so common in the entertainment industry as to be downright ubiquitous.
And, yet, pretty much everyone agrees that if the casino wishes to move this dispute to a courtroom, the small supper club in Bethesda is completely boned.
Brown’s lawyer, Chris Foley, a trademark lawyer and partner at Finnegan Law, said the casino is overreaching. However, he said his client could be wiped out financially if he tried to fight the order.
“Oh, it’s trademark bullying.” Foley said. “I think we’re dealing with a David and Goliath (situation) that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars easily and that’s not fair to him.”
“It is unfair,” Brown said. “Even if we were to fight a lawsuit, it would be very expensive. We just don’t have those resources.”
Trademark bullying occurs because it works. Brown has said he's reached out to the casino to plead that something be worked out, but the casino can't seem to find a way to let a blues supper club use the word "live." In a just world, this kind of bullying would result in the casino losing this overly-broad and common trademark entirely. Sadly, this world is often not quite so just as that.