Originally posted 2014-01-03 09:48:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Catchphrases such as THREE-PEAT with no coherent secondary meaning and no meaningful trademark identity are one of the really galling misuses of trademarks these days.  Nick Daly sends along this story (link added):

Lionsgate Film Studio has sued 15 companies for allegedly selling their merchandise featuring its trademarked [sic] phrase “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” from the 1987 hit movie “Dirty Dancing.”. . .

The suit, filed in Los Angeles last week, alleges that the use of the phrase by the companies wrongly sends the message to the consumers that the merchandise was authorized for sale by Lionsgate.

Holy CowThis is silly. Not every “good line” from a movie that’s silk-screened onto a trinket lures consumers into thinking that the merchandise has to do with the movie in any formal way. To the contrary, consumers recognize this as a mere cultural reference. But cleverness should not be not a basis for granting trademark rights. This is no more than trademark as cultural rent seeking, an old topic around here, and it’s despicable regrettable.

“Good lines” used to be their own reward. The late Phil Rizzuto was known by millions for his “trademark” use of the phrase “Holy Cow” in calling baseball games. This “trademark” benefited “the Scooter” without recourse to the Lanham Act: It was something that projected his reputation, enhanced his career and the demand for his services, and gave joy and pleasure to his fans.

Contrast THREE-PEAT — a registered trademark of basketball coach Pat Riley, meant to describe a thrice-repeating professional sports championship. Beaucoup clever. But a trademark? For what? Some junk that his company sold around the time he registered the mark, solely for purposes of establishing bona fide trademark use? I’d love to see the survey that could establish any good or service consumers associate with this coinage. That survey will never be taken, because the kinds of companies shut down by lawsuits by the likes of Riley and Lionsgate typically can’t afford to litigate (a survey alone can easily cost six figures of money).

Thus the abuse of the Lanham Act continues. Ironically, it’s unnecessary. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that NOBODY PUTS BABY IN THE CORNER isn’t making Lionsgate a dime today, because it is essentially worthless as anything but a lever over other peoples’ use.

Trademark blogger Ron ColemanBut you ask: Wait, why shouldn’t Lionsgate be rewarded for its clever phrase (I guess it was clever; I did not see the movie) or the “artistic” moment or recollection it evokes? But it has been! This line presumably made their movie better, and a better movie made them over a fifth of a billion dollars in box office receipts.

And that’s what — and all that — a good catchphrase should be. You know: Its own reward.

UPDATE:  Brett Trout points out there isn’t even a registration for this phrase.  Lots of other good stuff in his piece.  Hat tip to Blawg Review.

By Ron Coleman

LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION blog author Ron Coleman is a member of Dhillon Law Group in their New York City and Montclair, New Jersey offices. He is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and Princeton University.

6 thoughts on “Putting trademark in the corner”
  1. […] Brett Trout at Blawg IT evaluates Lionsgate Entertainment’s claim that T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner” from the movie Dirty Dancing violate the Lanham Act, even though no one has registered that slogan as a federal trademark and copyright protection does not apply.  Ron Coleman offers another take on the subject at Likelihood of Confusion. […]

  2. […] And a special thank you to those who have mentioned Blawg Review #123 in their own blog posts: Above the Law Antitrust Review Chicago IP Litigation Blog Build a Solo Practice, LLC California Blog of Appeal f/k/a idealawg Infamy or Praise Law.com Legal Blog Watch Lawgarithms Likelihood of Confusion New York Personal Injury Law Blog Small Business Trends Online Guide to Mediation QuizLaw The Common Scold What About Clients […]

  3. Yes, a good catchphrase is its own reward….especially so in the case of the Colorado Rockies.

    The men of team are clearly honored to be associated with the phrase “Rocktober”….and the business called the Rockies should be too, without claiming the honor as a new permanent asset.


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