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Nissan Motor's French Connection
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Entrepreneur Media
vs.
EntrepreneurPR




By Scott Smith
- EntrepreneurPR Founder - Committee Member

In October 1997, and after hiring a professional naming company and conducting extensive trademark searches, I changed the name of my public relations firm for entrepreneurs, from ICON Publications to EntrepreneurPR. I created a booklet of promotional profiles of our entrepreneurial clients and distributed it as source material for news stories to members of the media.

In May 1998, I was sued by Entrepreneur Media, the publisher of Entrepreneur Magazine, for using the term "entrepreneur" in my business, booklet and website names ("…we demand that you deliver up for destruction all physical items bearing any form of the trademark ENTREPRENEUR." Henry M. Bissell, attorney for Entrepreneur Media). In June 2000, a federal court judge awarded Entrepreneur Media an injunction prohibiting me from using the term "entrepreneur" and awarded $337,280 in damages to Entrepreneur Media. Entrepreneur Magazine is a small-business publication with about 500,000 subscribers that trademarked the word "entrepreneur" in 1987. And that, according to the court's decision, means the firm has "exclusive right to use the mark in commerce."

I appealed, and in February 2002 the case was overturned by a three judge panel who unanimously ruled that Entrepreneur Media's trademark was "descriptive and weak." The case was sent back to the same district court judge for a full trial. The judge again ruled against me in June 2003, and awarded Entrepreneur Media a permanent injunction and a mind-boggling $1.4 million in damages and attorneys' fees. Apparently you can call yourself an entrepreneur, but you can no longer include the word in the name of your business, particularly one in publishing, because the term "entrepreneur" was trademarked in 1987! ("According to Entrepreneur Media's legal counsel Mark Finkelstein, Entrepreneur Media even owns "entrepreneur" in Canada and in several sectors outside of magazine and website publishing." Profit Magazine, June 2003)

Isn't there a broad societal interest in preserving common, useful words for the public domain? As the U.S. Court of Appeals has already said about this case, "We do not want to prevent the commercial use of descriptive words … straightforward names are often the most useful identifiers." How is it that a corporate bully with deep pockets can appropriate a common term that they did not invent, has been in use for years, and has no synonym? How many more businesses and organizations that provide products and services for entrepreneurs will now be sued for using the word "entrepreneur"? Does this make any rational sense?

This battle has dragged on for over six years and has cost my small company over $100,000 in legal fees. But we refuse to give up and are again appealing this lower court's bizarre ruling. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, so we may not receive a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals until early 2005. Additional information about this subject is available at Entrepreneur.net, a website of one of the many small businesses Entrepreneur Magazine has attacked for using the word "entrepreneur."


Public awareness of this unacceptable corporate behavior is crucial to eradicating it and we are asking you to take a stand and make a difference on this issue. Your collective voice is more compelling than the lobbying power of corporate giants and it is a voice that cannot be ignored.
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