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December 30, 2010

I Own That Word!

Amanda Haddaway

A recent article in The Baltimore Sun outlined the controversy surrounding the owner of Café Hon’s decision to trademark the word “hon.” Some locals were so upset that they staged a protest outside of Denise Whiting’s 36th Street diner in Baltimore’s Hampden enclave.


Complaints ranged from concerns about laying claim to a piece of local culture and nostalgia to concerns over whether one has a right to trademark a phrase commonly used in the local vernacular. Ms. Whiting countered the arguments by explaining that she’s trying to protect the brand that she’s built over the past 19 years.


According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark “includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.”


As a lifelong Frederick County resident with an entrepreneurial spirit, I started thinking about words and phrases that are unique to our area and whether these terms should be trademarked.


The first word that came to mind was, of course, “Fredneck.” There have been on-going debates for years as to whether this is a term of endearment or a take on the less flattering, but profitable for Jeff Foxworthy, term “redneck.”


A quick search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database revealed that Douglas S. Seligson, of New Market, has already beaten me to the punch in trademarking “FRNX Fredneck, MD.” Oh, the horror that he lives in New Market and not Frederick proper!


You may have seen Mr. Seligson’s creation of the “FRNX” bumper stickers on a pick-up truck or two around the county. He’s trademarked not only the term, but also the bumper sticker design. Thankfully, no claim is made to the exclusive right to use “MD” apart from the mark as shown. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that we can still refer to our state with its two letter abbreviation without paying a royalty.


I don’t recall a big uprising or protests when Mr. Seligson’s trademark was registered in 2006, but maybe we’re all just a little more laid back than our neighbors to the east.


Additional searches of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online database revealed that there are many local terms still up for grabs. Here’s a list in case you’re looking for a new business venture in the New Year:


Golden Mile: Golden Miles was registered by Malaysian Airline Systems Corporation in 1998, but their claim to the plural term was cancelled in 1995. To date, no one has laid claim to the beloved term we use for U.S. Rt. 40, west of U.S. 15.


Clustered Spires: No records, current or expired, were found on the term that we use to refer to the Frederick skyline’s collection of church steeples.


Keyote: The famed mascot of the Frederick Keys baseball team does not have his name trademarked. The name of the team, however, does have a current trademark which includes the team logo. Perhaps I’ll purchase the Keyote trademark and then sell it back to the team for a discount on my city tax bill or naming rights to Harry Grove Stadium. Amanda Haddaway Field at Harry Grove Stadium has a nice ring to it.


Friends of Frederick County: Perhaps I’ll take a page out of the Adam Avery playbook and trademark this name for usage other than land conservation and environmental causes.


Barbara Fritchie: The name was originally registered in 1925 for the chocolatier, but has since expired.


Francis Scott Key: Both Francis Scott Key Bank and Francis Scott Key Foundation, Inc., were registered, but have since expired. The name by itself didn’t yield any search results in the database.


Weinberg Center for the Arts: It appears that a trademark has never been filed for our local theatre. I wouldn’t mind having a cut of the ticket sales.


While I have my tongue firmly planted in my cheek with my local trademark suggestions, the entire trademark debate is an interesting one. There is so much to consider when owning and operating a business that one has to wonder if a trademark on the business name is really necessary.


In the case of Café Hon, the owner deemed it in her best interest to take these additional steps to protect her brand. It will be interesting to see how long the protests continue and if this inadvertently hurts her business.


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