There’s a long and venerable — and not very pretty — history of disputes among religious groups, especially in break-away contexts, over the trademark rights in their names. There have also long been succession fights among Hasidic groups upon the deaths of their grand rabbis or rebbes, which in recent years have spilled into the secular courts, despite the grave religious prohibition on recourse to non-Jewish courts to resolve disputes among religious Jews. But this is the first time I know of where these two things have combined: A Hasidic trademark fight.
Disclosure: I was involved in this case at the beginning, on behalf of one of the competing groups of Bobov hasidim (mainly in Brooklyn and Monsey, New York), whose adherents split into two camps after the death of the late Grand Rabbi Naftali Halberstam, son of the Grand Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, a towering figure who built a great dynasty on American soil following the destruction of his family and court in the Holocaust. My friend and former partner, David Stein of Montvale, New Jersey, is a Bobover hasid, and he is still handling this work, and the client has authorized us to discuss this in public. It is a fascinating issue: Should the PTO have any role in deciding which of two competing hasidic groups should be allowed sole use of the dynasty’s name? We say it should not, and now David has filed 12 oppositions to pending trademark registrations (see here and here) to prevent it from doing so.
Last year our client, one of the two competing Bobov congregations, learned that the other group — which had already initiated litigation over the disposition of various real estate and other assets — had filed a series of trademark applications for various combinations of key words, including BOBOV, relating to the “business” of being the Grand Rabbi of Bobov.
We took the unusual step of writing a letter of protest during the pendency of the trademark application. Here’s a copy of what we filed, and here is a text version of the letter, which I reprint in whole because the issue is so fascinating and, frankly, important. Ultimately, the PTO permitted our letter as to one of the trademarks — BOBOV, the most important one — and denied as to the others. This is not surprising, considering the narrow band of consideration available for a letter of protest. Nonetheless, the PTO granted the application and published the BOBOV mark for opposition anyway.
Thus the issue is now before the PTO on an opposition basis; more oppositions will come on line as more of the applications are presumably published for opposition. I welcome your comments on this matter, and invite practitioners and others with thoughts on the topic to correspond directly with David Stein at dstein (at) stein-firm.com.
UPDATE April 23: David Stein emails:
Just received motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction from [the] “other Bobov.” Ironically, they claim that the TTAB can’t hear our notices of oppositions because we are bound by an agreement to arbitrate in the Beis Din [rabbinical court]. Is that a bit like killing your parents, and then asking the court to spare you from the death penalty because you are an orphan?