Have you heard that Pharrell Williams is being sued by Black Eyed Peas band member, will.i.am? Well, peeps.
That’s not true.
How do I know? I happen to have a nerdy obsession with trademark law and a clear understanding of the process.
Other media reported this as a copyright issue.
When it has nothing to do with copyrights. It is a trademark issue.
Let me explain why. A trademark is a name, slogan, brand, logo, or combination of, that identifies the source of a service or good. For example, when people see the “mark” they automatically associate it as belonging to a particular brand. Think Nike’s swoosh and McDonald’s golden arches. A copyright does not protect names, slogans, titles or phrases. It protects expressions of ideas such as literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
Don’t believe the hype that is floating on the web.
Here are the facts + why Pharrell isn’t being sued.
Pharrell operates a creative business, i am Other, LLC a YouTube channel, “and cultural movement dedicated to thinkers, innovators and outcasts” as described on the website. June 2012, Pharrell filed eight trademark applications for i am Other.
(How do I know? I looked it up. You can too at the USPTO TESS website.)
William Adams aka will.i.am has over 20 applications for various trademarks including I Am Steam, I Am Angel, I Am Plus, I Am+. He owns trademarks for i.am and will.i.am. In fact, he has owned the i.am trademark since March 6, 2001.
But, there is no such thing as a blanket trademark.
I’ve said this in previous posts. A trademark must associate with a specific good or service. If you have several different products or services, then a separate trademark application has to be filed for each one (assuming they fall in different classifications). will.i.am owns the i.am trademark as associated with the following: Clothing, namely, hats, caps, socks, shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, shorts, pants, sweatpants, jeans, swimwear, swimsuits, beachwear and footwear, namely, shoes, athletic footwear, boots, clogs, sneakers and sandals. Classification 25 covers apparel, but another classification would cover entertainment.
will.i.am is opposing Pharrell’s trademark registration for “i am Other” (notice I used the word “opposed” and not sued).
The Trademark Process
Once a trademark application is filed, and preliminarily approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it is published for a 30 day opposition period. The opposition period allows anyone claiming a common law trademark (an unregistered trademark), or a registered trademark to oppose the registration. This is exactly what has occurred between Pharrell and will.i.am. Pharrell’s trademark applications went into the opposition period, and will.i.am’s attorneys filed an opposition before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) within the 30 day period.
Filing an opposition is not considered a lawsuit.
If will.i.am’s attorney’s believed that Pharrell’s registration would infringe upon, injure or dilute his brand then they were absolutely correct to file the opposition and let the TTAB decide the issue. Better safe than sorry.
What if will.i.am’s people did nothing?
Every trademark owner has a duty to actively police (or monitor) their mark. In other words, “doing nothing” is not an option or you can risk losing your rights as a trademark owner. If you fail to police the trademark, you may be found to have abandoned the mark, or acquiesced (allowed) its use by the other person. Again, will.i.am’s attorneys are simply doing their job – it’s just business.
What happens next?
Basically, the two sides can decide to settle, or they can go through with the proceedings. I have a hunch that settling is out of the question since both sides have pretty strong brands to defend.
I will follow the trademark battle, but you can too.
You would be surprised at how much of this information is actually in the public record. If you want to follow the document trail for the William/Pharrell battle, do this:
Enter “I Am Other”
You will see all eight applications that I mentioned. Click the link in the status column that says “TSDR.” This will take you to the document retrieval system.
Select the “Document” tab
Scroll down to “Proceedings”
I respect both will.i.am and Pharrell for defending their brands. Are you Team Pharrell or Team will.i.am?