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Op-Ed

Trademarks

July 18, 2022

Should you be reassured that warrants haven't been issued to the operators of a website you're visiting? Maybe you ought to rethink what you're doing on that website. In other news, Dunder Mifflin and Buddhists are involved in trademark disputes.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

We’re so used to warning labels and caveats that they’re easy to ignore. Still, every now and then there’s one you ought to take seriously. Or at least think about.

This is apparently on every page of a website called defcad.com: “Since Jan. 1 2021, no warrants have been served to Defcad.com principals or employees. No searches or seizures have been performed on Defcad.com assets.”

I have no idea what may have happened before January 2021.

Why would Defcad want to assure you about this?

Well, Defcad, if you haven’t looked it up already, is a website that offers downloads of instructions for 3D printing of guns — guns in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It may not be as convenient as walking into a sporting goods store, but you can make as many copies as you want without the inconvenience of identification.

People with guns and people who print out guns, after all, like their privacy. This includes the unidentified persons with a very strange sense of humor who were sued by a gun violence prevention group called Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund Inc. for, surprisingly, trademark infringement.

(Everytown.com via Courthouse News)

It seems the defendants uploaded 3D-printing instructions for gun parts and accessories to Defcad and some other websites using Everytown’s trademarks. Who wouldn’t want a firearm emblazoned with an anti-gun label?

The defendants are claiming this was a parody.

Hilarious?

They’re also insisting they shouldn’t be identified by the websites because they have a First Amendment right to anonymous cleverness.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week didn’t decide the issue but did say the gun-file uploaders do have to identify themselves to a judge if they want a ruling on their objection to personal jurisdiction. It’s kind of hard to decide if someone lives in New York if you don’t know who they are.

Anonymity for the underlying case is still in question but I’m guessing the defendants don’t want to spoil Defcad’s no search or seizure streak.

Hmm. I wonder if we’ll find out if there’s a Second Amendment right to 3D printers. Stay tuned.

Oops. Usually I have a pretty good (if uneducated) idea about who screwed up when I read a lawsuit. The lawsuits I like the most, though, are the ones that leave me wondering what both sides could have been thinking.

A new example is a complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles by NBCUniversal and related companies over the trademark for Dunder Mifflin.

For the one or two of you out there who haven’t heard of Dunder Mifflin, it’s the name of a fictional paper-supply company in a very popular television series on NBC called "The Office." The last new episode of The Office aired in 2013.

“The widespread success of NBCU’s The Office created and cultivated a devoted fan following that endures and thrives to this day, nearly a decade after the series ended,” the lawsuit says.

You might think that if Dunder Mifflin was so popular that people would want it emblazoned on T-shirts or underwear that NBC might have registered it as a trademark sometime during that decade.

Nope. Didn’t happen.

So a couple of companies called Jay Kennette Media Group LLC and Gooder Labs LLC registered the trademark instead. The suit calls them trademark squatters — they’ve apparently done this sort of thing with trademarks from a bunch of other shows.

According to the suit, the defendants sold “unauthorized” merchandise from approximately 2015 to at least 2019. NBC either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

Can you guess what happened next?

The answer is that Kennette and Gooder started sending out takedown notices claiming that NBCUniversal and its licensees were infringing their trademarks.

In other words, they poked the giant corporate bear.

On June 8 this year the Patent and Trademark Office rejected NBCUniversal’s trademark application. The bear was definitively awakened.

So we’ve got a plaintiff that is claiming a common law trademark because it never got around to registering the valuable trademark and a defendant that should have stayed under the radar while profiting from someone else’s work.

I predict many years of entertaining appellate litigation.

And people on both sides are going to get a good talking-to.

More trademark news. I’m not a religion scholar so excuse my ignorance, but if you’re a Buddhist, should you be worried about money? Shouldn’t you divorce yourself as best you can from craving for material things?

The path toward Nirvana is a difficult one indeed.

I note this in light of a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on behalf of the Buddhist Association of the United States.

Against the Buddhist Association of the United States.

Yes, it’s a trademark and fraud suit. The plaintiff is based in New York. The defendant is based in California. According to the complaint, the New York association was formed in 1964 and the California group was formed in 2005. The New York Buddhists didn’t notice this until 2018 when the IRS asked about an address change to El Monte, California.

(baus.org via Courthouse News)

It seems, says the suit, that the California Buddhists (or alleged Buddhists) had been using the New York Buddhists’ Employer Identification Number and may have been using it since 2005.

Note that the IRS hadn’t noticed this for 13 years either. My guess is that there are Buddhists in the IRS who have given up on material worries.

I have no idea whether the California Buddhists are for real or not, but the New York suit says “that California BAUS is using New York BAUS’s name, likeness, trademarks, goodwill, and EIN number to divert donations away from New York BAUS and to California BAUS.”

OK, but would real Buddhists care?

We need to meditate on this.

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