Monday, August 25, 2003

"Entrepreneur": A fair and balanced look

Good news from the legal world: Fox News has dropped its frivolous and unwinnable lawsuit against Al Franken over the use of the phrase "fair and balanced."

Bad news: A California-based magazine has won exclusive rights to the word "entrepreneur." Entrepreneur Media Inc., publisher of Entrepreneur magazine, now has the "exclusive right to use the mark in commerce."

How'd they win "entrepreneur" as a descriptive trademark? "They've gotten that because they've shown continuous use for at least five years, and they certify that the word has gained secondary meaning, and that is to identify their magazine," says William D. Neal, a senior executive at SDR Consulting in Atlanta who provides expert testimony in trademark cases. The magazine began operations in 1978. So that means that by 1983, every time you used the word "entrepreneur" (originally coined in 1852, by the way), you couldn't help but think of this brand-new magazine somewhere out in California. That's got to be one of the fastest linguistic changes since James Daly allegedly invented the word "quiz" by chalking it all over Dublin. Or it would be, if it weren't obviously a steaming load of crap.

So this means that if you use that word in the name of your business -- as did EntrepreneurPR, the public relations firm on the losing end of the legal tussle -- you're looking down the barrels of a lawsuit. So says Entrepreneur magazine. Interestingly, though, Entrepreneur Media Inc. may well be hoisted by its own petard, since the name of that business -- yep -- not only infringes upon that of another company, but that of a competing business magazine. Not only is Inc. magazine better established in the marketplace, with a larger circulation than Entrepreneur (680,719, compared to 547,421), but it's been operating continuously under that name since at least 1986. So, now that the precedent's been set, Inc. is apparently entitled to sue Entrepreneur Media Inc. -- along with every other company on the face of the earth with "Inc." in its name -- for infringing on its descriptive trademark. Cha-ching!

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