Even though I have done legal work for several companies whose products stand for conspicuous consumption I have always felt a bit uneasy doing so. Half in jest I have often described trademark law as the law of designer jeans, purses and perfumes.

But I now have a different perspective on the problems that confront these brand owners. Two days ago a young woman who works in my building bubbled over with excitement because of her latest purchase. She had been to a counterfeit purse party at the home of a friend. Where she bought a counterfeit Coach purse.
Tupperware made such parties famous. Mary Kay used them to make the color pink a part of middle class America's cultural landscape. But the guests at these parties are offered counterfeit purses, wallets and scarves. You want Coach? We got. You want Prada? We got. You want LV? We can get.

I asked the young lady to show me her counterfeit Coach purse. Now I'm not familiar with the Coach line, but the purse she showed me appeared to be very well made. And it came with a Coach tag and chain, and an elaborate Coach label sewn on the purse.

If I were writing this from Canal Street in NYC it would be a ho hum event. But Indianapolis will never be mistaken for Canal Street. If high quality knock offs are now sold to middle class women at parties in the suburbs of white bread and mayonnaise America- these folks are faced with an enforcement problem bigger than I had ever realized.

And as I was preparing this entry another thought occurred to me. Is there a spillover effect from the music download debate? Or put differently- if I am comfortable downloading music for free is it easier for me to then purchase a knock off without any moral qualms?



The Internet is truly amazing. Everyone with a computer has access to a wealth of information beyond the wildest dreams of America's great robber barons. For free. Or almost free.
This democratization of information has been a threat to many who provide professional services. But for others-and here I include myself- offering such services to folks who have a real understanding of their needs is much more rewarding. With even modest research skills a consumer can develop a basic understanding of many specialized concepts. Then that consumer can much more effectively evaluate the service that she is buying.

But. And life being life there is always a but. A consumer must have faith that the basic information on the Net is accurate. And, for those seeking information on US trademark law, that faith may be misplaced. In the past week I found one article and one blog post- by lawyers claiming expertise in trademark law- that were either flat out wrong or that contained outdated information.
If I were a small businessperson reading the article- which touted the benefits of federal trademark registration- I would assume that by federally registering my trademark I would be purchasing a lottery ticket- that I could cash in when some national company wanted to use the same name- even though my use was confined to the locale where I lived. And if I read the blog site entry I would conclude that I could not sell one of the branded products from my product line unless I sold my entire business.
And the reality? Federally registering a trademark confers a national right- but no national remedy unless you are using a term across all or almost all the US. And the modern view about transferring ownership of trademarks? Look to the intent of the parties. If they intended to transfer the goodwill associated with one product but not the entire business- that transfer is entirely proper.
Yes the web is wonderful. And no ignorance is not bliss. But for one seeking information- beware of fools gold.



Let me be clear. I don't know jack about Alaskan Indian affairs. Alaska Native Regional Corporations? Never heard of them. Doyon, Limited- Neat name what is it?
But I do have a nose that can smell questionable legal tactics. And an eye that can spot the bending of legal doctrine. And my senses became activated by yet another example of IP law overreaching.
Doyon,Limited is an Alaska Native Regional Corporation. Very successful. With thousands of members (shareholders?) and a Board of Directors. And that Board chose to dismiss one of the senior executives- apprently without explanation.
This upset some folks. Who have started a proxy battle to have this gentleman or someone sympathetic to his POV elected to the Board. About now you are yawning. As you should be.
Such battles go on all the time. Where I live one is raging right now- we've got billboards and newspaper ads shoutng out the competing points of view.
But apparently Doyon's board of directors is afraid of any such public debate. And the sad fact is that they used trademark law in an effort to squelch discussion. The board instructed its big law firm to send a trademark cease and desist letter to the disgruntled "friends of doyon". While readily acknowledging that the friends were using the term Doyon as part of a proxy battle, big law firm concluded that the public would somehow confuse those seeking to oust certain board members with the board members trying to hang on to their seats.
And further that registering the domain was an act of bad faith on their part.
Never mind that the cases are legion that non commercial use of commercial symbols is not infringement. Never mind that specific parts of the federal tradmark act excuse otherwise potentially infringing use when such use is done to communicate in a timely manner. The all too familiar guiding principle seems to be: scare them into silence with a sternly worded letter that is truthy if not absolutely truthful.
For the moment ignore the morality- with the Web these efforts are far more likely to bring shame and embarassment rather than silence. I am always left asking myself: Why was it so easy to get a law firm to do their bidding?



If you weren't around then I'll spare you the details. But when the Beatles broke up it was ugly. And for many fans the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of Yoko Ono.
Fast forward through disco, punk, grunge, rap. Along comes a singer named Lennon Murphy. She achieves a certain amount of success. As the story is now reported, this singer naively went to Yoko and asked permission to use her own name to identify herself. No reply from Yoko.
Then, undoubtedly at the suggestion of her handlers, Lennon Murphy sought to register the term LENNON as a trademark in connection with her recordings and her perfomances.

Yoko gets upset. She files a petiton to cancel Lennon Murphy's federal trademark. Lennon Murphy reports all this on her Facebook page. Yoko gets dissed by the blogs. Then Yoko sends an email to the Techdirt blog saying that she would never want to prevent a young artist from using her own name, she just wanted her lawyers to explain to the Trademark Office about the unfairness of it all.

Well not exactly.

The petition to cancel Lennon Murphy's registration complains that Lennon Murhpy has purposefully sought to traffic on John Lennon's reputation and further that Lennon Murphy committed fraud when she filed her trademark application.

And Yoko can make these claims because she owns federally registred tradedmarks for the term LENNON, in connection with recordings and entertainment?

Well not exactly.

Yoko has two federally registered trademarks for the term JOHN LENNON in signature format used on items such as eyeglass cases and tote bags.

Bur wait. You don't understand. John Lennon was and is one of the most famous men of the 20th century. So his widow should be able to decide how anyone at any time uses the term lennon. Shouldn't she?

Well not exactly.

Whne brand owners overreach they do great mischief to legal doctrine.