“Who steals my purse steals trash…But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and make me poor indeed.”
–Othello, Act 3
When it comes to trademarks, corporations have become more aggressive in asserting their ownership of trademarks and have even gone as far as to try to stop people from using their own family names for business if the name comes too close to what they feel is a trademark they own. What’s more, companies use their extensive coffers to force small businesses to give up names – and rights – or face years of litigation and millions of dollars in legal fees.
TrademarkBullying.org is an organization dedicated to providing information about, and a forum for discussion of, events related to “trademark bullying,” which has unfortunately become all too common an occurrence in the United States. With legal costs skyrocketing, it is becoming increasingly difficult for small businesses to defend themselves against heavy-handed lawsuits from deep-pocketed large…and foreign…corporations. We hope to provide a voice for those impacted by this practice, and use our resources to educate public officials about the impact this form of bullying has on small businesses.
So students from the William Mitchell School of Law are advocating a change in the law that would require plaintiffs to pay the legal costs of the defendants in the event they lose. That would level the playing field for the resources that could be brought to bear to protect a trademark. A bill accomplishing that is under consideration in Minnesota. The students want more states – and the federal government – to enact similar laws.
Such laws would have the added benefit of making sure defendants trying to protect their names get the best legal advice, Mitchell’s Port says. All too often, small-business owners who may want to fight have trouble getting an attorney, knowing the time and expense involved in a fight with a plaintiff with such deep pockets.
“A lot of these folks just don’t have the money, and no one is going to represent them because they don’t know if they’re ever going to get paid,” Port says. “This makes it more likely a young, hungry attorney will take their case.”