from the why?--when?--where?--what!?!?!? dept
You may recall a story from a few years back involving self-proclaimed "corporate virtue advisor" Dov Seidman and his quest to sue Chobani for using the phrase "How food is made matters" and the social media hashtag #howmatters. Seidman's problem with all of this? He had a trademark registered for the word "how." Yeah, seriously. Seidman claimed that his super-awesome transformational use of "how" as a noun instead of a verb had been trademarked and that this somehow meant that a company that sells yogurt couldn't use the word in any way similar.
Well, it turns out that Seidman has since sought to drop that case, because he claims that Chobani is no longer using the hashtag and slogan, so all is fine in the world again. Except that he's now suing his own agent for breach of fiduciary duty, because that Chobani campaign came out of an advertising company called Droga5, in which the agent's agency, William Morris Endeavor, holds partial ownership.
"WME actively encouraged Droga5 to use WME's own client's intellectual property to land this lucrative advertising contract with Chobani and then to create a campaign that would make use of, and dilute the value of, its client's intellectual property — all without the knowledge or permission of its client," states the complaint filed Monday. "Seidman's use of 'how' as a noun has given it a distinct meaning, expressing the values-based ethos of individual and organizational behavior at the center of his how philosophy," states the complaint. "Phrases such as 'how is the answer,' 'how matters,' and 'get your hows right' are uniquely identified with Seidman."Okay, let's summarize so you can get a clear understanding of what's occurring here. Seidman has a federal trademark registration on the word "how" as a noun for his business, which is corporate virtue advising. Consulting, in other words. Chobani uses the word "how" in a way that Seidman declares to be infringing, then stops, placating him. Seidman's agent helped Seidman come up with this transformational use of the word "how" and works for a company that holds a 49 percent stake in the advertising agency that produced the Chobani ad he was previously upset about. The claim is that the agent used Seidman's intellectual property by pushing the ad agency to use it, getting the Chobani campaign contract and enriching the agency.
The suit claims Seidman's agent, WME partner Jay Mandel, not only knew of his philosophy but actually helped him develop it over a decade of working together. Seidman says Mandel also failed to disclose WME's involvement in the Chobani campaign when Seidman approached him after it launched.
Except we're still talking about the word "how" here. And Seidman and Chobani, who actually used the word in the marketplace, aren't in remotely the same industries. If the claim about breach of fiduciary responsibility centers on Seidman's trademark property, and it does, then there's nothing here, because there was no infringement to be had. As for the fiduciary responsibility bit, it's obvious that Chobani wanted an ad campaign, not someone to advise them on corporate virtue, so I'm not clear what Seidman is even talking about here.
And yet Seidman must share the blame for this stupid, idiotic mess with the USPTO, who granted a federal trademark on the word "how". Were it to have never done so, absolutely none of this nonsense would be occurring. Trademarking the word "how" sounds like one of the sarcastic exaggerations we see in the comments section whenever we write about a slightly less abusive trademark case. But, with the culture of permission fermenting, parody has given way to real life examples of just how ridiculous this has all become.