Some entities cling to the belief that if a trademark isn't vigorously and ridiculously "defended," it will slip out of their grasp. This attitude has led to legal action (and legal threats) over common English words, with the complainant often bypassing any sort of reasonable confusion claims and heading directly towards claiming the entity "owns" certain words. (See also: "Super Bowl," "footlong" and "monster.")
Bateman IP Law Group, representing a company called Emergency Essentials, LLC, sent a cease and desist letter to a website owner, claiming its client has exclusive rights to the words "emergency essentials."
Dear Ms. [Recipient]:
We represent Emergency Essentials, LLC. with respect to certain intellectual property matters. Emergency Essentials, LLC. and its predecessor has been operating for more than 25 years selling food storage and other emergency supplies. Emergency Essentials has spent substantial amounts of money in developing goodwill in its marks and has a large number of U.S. Trademark Registrations, including Registration Nos. 3,665,475; 3,659,764, 3,582,153; 3,582,152; 3,574,562; 3,571,179; 3,571,178; 3,571,177; 3,571,176; 3,571,175; 3,571,174; 3,571,173; 3,571,172; 3,568,952; 3,568,951; 3,439,473 for the mark EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS.
It has recently come to our attention that the website, www.theemergencylady.com. for which you are listed as the registrant, has been using the mark "EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS", as in the webpage found at www.theemergencylady.com/emergency_essentials_001027.html. (see exhibit, attached).
While Emergency Essentials appreciates the work your website is doing to promote emergency preparedness, it is also required to enforce its trademarks against those who are using the marks in such manner as may lead to a likelihood of confusion. After reviewing the website, we believe that consumers may incorrectly associate the website as being from or affiliated with our client. Therefore, we would respectfully request that you change the description on the website to replace the trademark "Emergency Essentials" with terms such as "emergency supplies," "emergency provisions," "emergency goods," or some other term which does not use our client's trademark. Likewise, we would request that you do not use "Emergency Essentials" unless you are referring specifically to our client.
Within 10 days of this letter please confirm that you have ceased all use of our client's mark. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and wish you the best with your endeavor. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Very truly yours,
Enclosure: Exhibit [A print out of the web page at www.theemergencylady.com/emergency_essentials_001027.html]
Seeing as this was sent Feb. 26th and the page is still live, the Emergency Lady was completely unfazed by the bogus claims, even when confronted with a hard copy of her own post. "Save a trademark, kill a tree," as the saying goes. While Emergency Essentials, LLC has done an admirable job of pushing down web results that make use of its registered trademarks place these two words next to each other, there's still plenty of work to be done in terms of completely eradicating any "confusing" use these common English words.
Here's CNN with a list of emergency essentials. Here's Dr. Oz with another. Here's an emergency essentials list created by the Texas Department of Health.
Any feelings that the average person might confuse an "emergency responder in a rural area's" personal website with a company that markets dehydrated food and other disaster preparedness supplies reside solely in the vivid imagination of the company's trademark protection squad. And Bateman IP isn't just going after small-time website owners. It's also suing bigger names as well.
Here's its current lawsuit against Amazon for providing competitors' products in response to search results for "emergency essentials," as well as under the tag itself. Two C&D notices, sent three years apart, ask the online retailer to refrain from showing competitors' products on this "page" or in search results. Good luck with that.
But here's the most ridiculous aspect of Emergency Essentials, LLC's war of words. For a company so easily irritated by the use of common English words, it has no problem borrowing a well-known phrase as its own URL.
But this is apparently OK because the site carries the following disclaimer at the foot of the page.
EMERGENCY ESSENTIALS, LLC IS NOT AFFILIATED, ENDORSED BY OR HAS ANY RELATIONSHIP WITH THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA®.
Thanks for clearing that up. If it's good enough for the BSA, then one imagines a small disclaimer hidden somewhere at Emergency Lady's site or Amazon itself should eliminate any customer confusion without having to use awkward phrases or remove content. It seems incredibly hypocritical to pursue a site that sells no product but uses certain words while operating a site that sells products conceivably related to the general outdoorsiness of Boy Scouting under the name beprepared.com. (This URL choice likely has something to do with a legal battle over a domain name [theemergencyessentials.com] that doesn't seem to have panned out for the company.)
The letter claims the company is "required" to "enforce its trademarks" in situations of possible confusion, but there's nothing in trademark law that stipulates misguided actions like this one. A district court judge summed it up thusly:
The owner of a mark is not required to constantly monitor every nook and cranny of the entire nation and to fire both barrels of his shotgun instantly upon spotting a possible infringer.
That's certainly what appears to be going on here.
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