Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Look, this happens all the time. Someone has a brand name and enough cash to register it as a trademark. Someone else without a lot of cash makes fun of the trademark. The trademark owner has his attorney send a scary "cease and desist letter" because he's pissed at being made fun of and the attorney doesn't know enough to control his client. The recipient feels bullied (he's right, that's the point of the letter) but has to cave because he doesn't have the resources to fight.

In this case, the pissed guy is (liberal comedian) Garrison Keillor and the guys who made fun of him by selling "A Praire Ho Companion" t-shirts are the proprietors of (liberal) local blog MNSpeak. And they've given in, for now.

This is a dumb fight. The t-shirts aren't so clever (MNSpeak admits they haven't sold many of them and didn't planned to reorder) but no one was going to think they were endorsed by Garrison Keillor, so trademark law (which is intended to prevent consumer confusion) shouldn't apply. A kinder letter could have easily persuaded MNSpeak to stop selling the t-shirts without making them feel like the school yard bully has just shaken them down. Minnesota Nice is a useful skill not apparently practiced by Mr. Keillor and his counselor.

Finally! Liberals now have a rock solid example of where diplomacy might have worked but instead they sent in the troops to stop the WMD's (which, as it turned out, were not being replenished). Yes, they can declare victory. But are Mr. Keillor's approval ratings slipping?

MNSpeak may not have money to hire a lawyer to defend it, but it owns a modern-style printing press and the possibility of sparking a blogswarm (Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has done his part). Here's our contribution: back off Garrison!


In defense of Keillor, a trademark holder has to make the occasional attempt to protect said trademark, lest it fall into the public domain; it's hard to imagine, though, that in this case the Garrulous One was motivated more by legalities than by pique.

By Blogger CGHill, at 10:22 AM  

A trademark owner does need to police confusing misuse of his mark. Assuming the t-shirts are confusing (a big assumption), a friendly letter explaining this (after all, MNSpeak is a liberal group and would likely be receptive to Keillor's concerns) would accomplish the policing requirement without making the policer seem like such a prick.

By Blogger ELOISE, at 4:38 PM  

You wouldn't be confused, and neither would I, and neither would Atomizer if he hadn't been drinking, but I'm sure there are people clueless enough out there to see one of these and think "Is this the new urban home companion?"

I'm grateful I didn't get a call from the Seussian lawyers for Horton Hears a Ho.

By Blogger CGHill, at 9:50 AM  

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