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Intra-Family Trademark Violence: SR Sues JR For Using His Own Name In Law Firm Marketing

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With the chief hurdle for infringement in trademark law being potential public confusion as to the source of a good or service, we sometimes toss that standard around as a blanket sort of thing. And, in trademark law, it kind of is just that binary. But the combination of the protectionist view of trademark law taking hold in America and the unfortunate habit of many people attempting to trademark their own names in one fashion or another, I wonder if the law might need to be updated in some ways. For example, we've seen several instances of intra-family trademark spats that arise from a person or business looking to trademark or simply use their own names. Any system of trademark enforcement that results in broadly disallowing someone to use their own name in the marketplace feels like a clear step too far, if only from a common sense perspective.Yet it keeps happening. The latest iteration of this involves a lawyer, George Sink Sr., suing his own son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name for his law firm and marketing material. The court overseeing the matter just this week issued a restraining order barring George Jr. from using his own name to advertise his firm.

A Fourth Circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order that stops Sink Jr. from using the family name to advertise his personal injury firm on its website, in email, and on social media.“George Sink Jr. is of course not barred from practicing law under his birth name, but in advertising for his legal services he must do more to differentiate between him and plaintiff,” writes Judge David Norton. “The mere fact that it is George Sink Jr.’s given name does not automatically shield him from allegations of infringement.”The court documents note the similarities in the advertisements Sink’s son was using and said customers might and in some cases did get confused about which Sink law firm they were dealing coordinating with. “The logos that each party uses on their respective law firm websites, the name GEORGE SINK is more prominent than the auxiliary words,” writes Norton.
Again, perhaps this all legally correct. But that sure feels like an indication that there is a problem with the law, not with a person using his or her own name in their business' name. And the fact that this sort of dispute incorporates an inter-family squabble makes this all the more bizarre. George Jr. apparently worked for his father's firm some time ago and practiced there as George Jr. His firm handles a different type of law than his father. But now that his son has opened up his own firm using the uncreative name George Sr. gave him, it's a legal matter.
In the suit, Sink Sr. says the company name is "famous" around South Carolina and Georgia. He also notes in the document that the business' name is trademarked, and by using a similar name, his son is committing trademark infringement and creating unfair competition. According to the lawsuit, Sink Jr.'s firm was hurting his father’s online reviews and prominence on search websites.In the lawsuit, Sink Sr. alleges that his son has always preferred the nickname "Ted," and by going by the same name as his father, he is confusing customers.
George Sr. sure seems fun. Regardless, I can't think of any reason why a bit more nuance couldn't be inputted into existing trademark law. All this really screams for is a provision in the law that would allow someone to use their birth-name so long as there was no other attempt to create confusion with another entity holding a similar mark.That...just doesn't seem too hard to do.

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posted at: 12:00am on 21-Aug-2019
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White House Suspends Another Reporter's Press Pass, Once Again, Raising 1st Amendment Concerns

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As you'll recall, last year, the White House tried to remove CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass over a silly made up controversy claiming that he had "assaulted" an intern in trying to hold onto the microphone while the intern had tried to pull it away. CNN sued and a court sided with them in blocking the White House's action. Soon after, the White House released new rules, that we mentioned left them open to future 1st Amendment challenges.Well, here we are. On Friday, the White House removed Playboy reporter Brian Karem's press pass, claiming it was about some sort of weird yelling match Karem had with ex-Trump official Sebastian Gorka at Trump's silly social media troll summit back in July. Karem immediately said he'd sue over the removal and his attorney Ted Boutrous has sent a series of letters to White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham over the last few weeks. The opening of the first one lays everything out pretty nicely.

We write on behalf of our client, Brian Karem, who serves as the White House correspondent for Playboy, in response to your August 2, 2019 letter informing of your "preliminary decision" to suspend his hard pass for 30 days, supposedly "due to [his] conduct at the press event in the Rose Garden on July 11, 2019," and giving him one business day to submit a response before you "make a final decision on the matter." We object to this arbitrary and unfair procedure threatening to deprive Mr. Karem of his constitutionally protected liberty and property interests in his hard pass, which would flatly violate the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause and the principles established by the D.C. Circuit's decision in Sherrill v. Knight, 569 F.2d 124 (D.C. Cir. 1977) and many other cases. Your invocation of the Rose Garden event weeks after it occurred and without any notice whatsoever that you were considering taking action against Mr. Karem is the opposite of due process, and is clearly pretext for punishing Mr. Karem based on his viewpoint and the content of his reporting on President Trump.
It's the "arbitrary and unfair procedure" part of the above quote that is most important. The White House can't just cook up reasons to remove someone if the real reason is they don't like his reporting (as was the case with Acosta).In a later letter, Boutrous points out that Grisham herself has admitted to not following any basic due process, as required by the 1st Amendment:
Your email of last night revealed that you failed to conduct a reasonable investigation before reaching your preliminary decision. Among other deficiencies, you admit that you did not speak to a single witness. You did not speak to Sebastian Gorka, Jim Hanson, or any of the other individuals who are seen on video taunting and/or threatening Mr. Karem. You did not speak to any of the journalists who were standing alongside Mr. Karem in the press pen and observed firsthand what happened. Nor did you speak to Mr. Karem himself, despite his efforts to speak with you. In fact, you claimed you lack evidence that Mr. Karem made any attempt to speak with you. Enclosed with this letter are emails reflecting his efforts.You have also elected to ignore publicly-available evidence that Mr. Gorka has trumpeted his confrontation with Mr. Karem, bragging that he took on the "fake news industrial complex," as well as evidence that the President himself viewed the events as humorous. All of this information is highly relevant to your decision, yet you have deliberately chosen to ignore it.
After suggesting that Gorka was the one who initiated and escalated the confrontation, while Karem was the one who sought to de-escalate it, Boutrous also notes the following:
The President himself has used far stronger language and imagery. Among other things, he has tweeted an image of himself wrestling a CNN icon to the ground, and stated that a congressman who body-slammed a reporter is "my kind of guy." He has also urged his supporters to "knock the hell" out of protestors at his rallies, and remarked about one protestor, "I'd like to punch him in the face." If the President's statements cannot reasonably be understood as endorsing or inciting violence, the White House cannot possibly deem Mr. Karem's offer to "go outside and have a long talk" as over the line.
None of this seemed to matter. In the official suspension notice, Grisham insists that Karem's comment to go outside and have a conversation was obviously a threatening statement.It seems likely that Karem will now sue and we'll get yet another court to weigh in on the process by which the President (any President, not just this one...) can remove press passes.

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posted at: 12:00am on 21-Aug-2019
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THE Ohio State University Applies For THE Stupidest Trademark In THE World

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We've talked ongoing about how ridiculous and aggressive many universities are becoming on trademark matters. Now colleges and universities do many, many annoying things, but their tendency towards trademark bullying certainly ranks up there near the top of the list. Not as high, of course, as Ohio State's neverending insistence that everyone call it "THE Ohio State University." The school likes to point out that the "the" (sigh) is actually part of the school's legal name, when the reality is that the school is simply being haughty and pedantic.Well, now these two worlds are colliding in what might just be the dumbest trademark application I've ever seen. You'll never guess what single word OSU wants to trademark.

Application No. 88571984, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, was discovered and publicized Tuesday by Josh Gerben, a prominent trademark lawyer in Washington. The application seeks a trademark on the single word "THE" for use on T-shirts and baseball caps and hats.  For years, the university's demand that it be called "THE Ohio State University" has rankled sports fans and journalists, who've called it "pompous and stupid," "ridiculous" and "arrogant."Partisans, including the university, point out that "the" is part of its name under state law. And Chris Davey, a spokesman for the university, told The Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday that it's important to "vigorously protect the university's brand and trademarks."
This, simply, is absurd. Trademark law is written in such a way to be wide open for abuse, but even this is a bridge further than the law will allow. Trademarks require original identifiers that indicate the source of a good or service and the bar for approval by the Trademark Office goes up the shorter and less original the identifier is. The idea that someone might apply for a trademark on the single most commonly used determiner in the English language is the sort of thing reserved for jokes in our comments section. But THE Ohio State University went ahead and did it anyway.Other schools took notice, of course, and some of them are having fun at OSU's expense.
Michigan getting a trademark on the word "of" makes every bit as sense as OSU's application. Fortunately, despite all of the madness we see from the USPTO on a frequent basis, nobody seems to think this application is going to be approved.
Gerben predicted on Tuesday that Ohio State was "likely to receive an initial refusal of the application."For a trademark to be registered for a brand of clothing, the trademark "must be used in a trademarked fashion," he said on Twitter. "In other words, it has to be used on tagging or labeling for the products. In this case, just putting the word 'the' on the front of a hat or on the front of a shirt is not sufficient trademark use," he said.
That careful analysis is almost certainly correct, but I much prefer to simply point out that this is all very, very crazy and be done with it.

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posted at: 12:00am on 20-Aug-2019
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Twitter And Facebook Removing Chinese Disinfo Campaigns Shows That, Contrary To Popular Opinion, They Do Moderate Against Disinfo

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Leaving aside the ridiculous and ignorant suggestions from some that no internet platforms should moderate anything, many, many people seem to believe (incorrectly) that the various internet companies refuse to moderate anything because it goes against their bottom lines. We've heard this from a number of politicians -- especially among those seeking to change Section 230, arguing (again, incorrectly) that because of Section 230 there's somehow no incentive to moderate content on their platforms.This is wrong on multiple levels. There is tremendous business, political, moral, and social pressure to moderate content on these platforms. When they get it wrong, they get criticized. They can lose users. And (importantly) they can lose advertisers, partners, customers and investors. There is demand for "healthy" platforms, and it's Section 230 that allows them to experiment and moderate accordingly. That's why it's notable to me that both Twitter and Facebook announced the removal of what appears to be a coordinated attempt to abuse both platforms to push disinformation against protesters in Hong Kong. Here's Facebook's announcement:

Today, we removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior as part of a small network that originated in China and focused on Hong Kong. The individuals behind this campaign engaged in a number of deceptive tactics, including the use of fake accounts some of which had been already disabled by our automated systems to manage Pages posing as news organizations, post in Groups, disseminate their content, and also drive people to off-platform news sites. They frequently posted about local political news and issues including topics like the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government.
And here's Twitter's announcement:
This disclosure consists of 936 accounts originating from within the People's Republic of China (PRC). Overall, these accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground. Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. Specifically, we identified large clusters of accounts behaving in a coordinated manner to amplify messages related to the Hong Kong protests.As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs. However, some accounts accessed Twitter from specific unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China. The accounts we are sharing today represent the most active portions of this campaign; a larger, spammy network of approximately 200,000 accounts many created following our initial suspensions were proactively suspended before they were substantially active on the service.
Despite common perception, both companies have put a lot of effort into discovering and stopping these kinds of efforts. Of course, none of it will be perfect, because content moderation at scale is impossible to do well. Mistakes of both false positives and false negatives are inevitable. But, if anyone thinks that modifying Section 230 will magically make companies better at this, they're not paying attention. Adding more liability to companies over their moderation choices won't make these efforts any better or any easier -- they might just bog the companies down in lawsuits.

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