What Brown can do to you

Go figure:

United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s largest package-delivery company, sued a lawyer in Lakewood, N.J., for trademark infringement.

Samuel Z. Brown, of The Law Offices of Samuel Z. Brown, infringed the parcel-delivery service’s various “Brown” trademarks, the company claims in its complaint filed March 19 in New York federal court.

UPS objects to Brown’s Web site, www.sambrownlaw.com, and his uses of the phrase “See What Brown Can Do for You,” and his “Brown Engine” that performs a “See What Brown Can Find for You” search function.

A lawyer, yet! Can you sue yourself for malpractice?

On the other hand, is there really LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION here? The provision of legal services is surely not likely to be confused with freight shipping. Is it dilution, then? If so, are these really famous marks?

All academic questions, I am sure.

UPDATE:  The case was settled, PACER reveals.  It seems that last March, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa denied Mr. Brown’s not unreasonable, if overly optimistic, motion to ship the case and its no fewer than ten causes of action to the nearby District of New Jersey.  Mr. Brown’s unexpected counterstroke, threatening as it did to kick the legs out from under UPS’s ability to focus maximum litigation firepower on the Sam Brown threat, was skillfully beaten back by the crack team at national powerhouse King & Spalding, drawing on contributions from both its Atlanta and New York offices.  Their efforts, to the surprise of no one, bore fruit, leaving the stunned Brown team (uh, sorry UPS) reeling and with little choice but to sue for peace.

Putting the snark aside briefly, at the end of the day, I suppose the dilution claim was irresistible here; confusion could never be proved, but dilution, well, we no longer ask for hardly any proof of anything at all as long as your mark is famous (and yes, I’d guess these are).

Sam Brown folded:  His website no longer says, “See What Brown Can Do for You.”

What Brown Can Do To You

But was this no more than a Pyhrric victory for the Men in Brown?  PACER also hints, if only by the tense stillness of nearly six months of docket silence, at a tale of epic struggle whose details–wrapped as neatly as a UPS-regulation parcel by what must be a confidential settlement agreement–will never be known.  No papers were filed between the dramatic venue motion that was Sam Brown’s Waterloo and the coupe de grace that must have been administered in private before the simple stipulation of settlement was filed only last August.

The cause of the un-UPS-like delay in delivering the expected package?  We’ll never know — but the damage, surely, has been done.  Damn you trademark diluters!  Damn you!

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.

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