Yesterday, I wrote about the Melbourne Grand Prix and its inability to solicit cars for its stars for the purpose of a celebrity race. Would you believe this made me an intellectual property infringer? No? Just wait.
This morning, I find an email from a firstname.lastname@example.org who writes:
You have used the words ’Cars for Stars’ in this page: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/new-trends-in-product-placement-no-cars-for-stars/
Please note that Cars for Stars is a registered trademark wording of Cars for Stars Ltd.
Can you please either change the words or add a link to us www.carsforstars.net at the bottom somewhere.
Please confirm once this has been sorted as we were alerted by our Patent Solicitors.
I’m in trouble! Does Her Majesty’s Trademark Service have me in its cross-hairs? “Ease up, Schmitt,” I tell myself. “Always do your research first,” as my obscenely priced Manhattan lawyer had imparted on me, providing not so free advice while I still was rich enough to afford his services.
Researching Cars for Stars ® is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be overwhelmed. The company is one of the most search engine optimized enterprises I have met. Type “Cars for Stars” into Google, and you will be assaulted. Each of its mostly UK outlets has its own URL, following the “http://www.carsforstars-XXX.co.uk/” format, where the XXX stands for a city. The links go to mostly the same content, however, the different URLs cause Google to produce walls of links. An exact search for “Cars for Stars” produces 57,000 hits.
(Update: That number suddenly dropped to 9,970 – did someone at Google adjust the algorithm?)
Dave, who proudly pronounces in a logo at the bottom of the Cars for Stars ® website that he “SEO’d this website,” sure gave Cars for Stars ® its money worth (“£99 per month – no hidden charges!”)
It comes as no surprise that four minutes after the mail that allegedly was sent by Mr. Tej Randeva, CEO, another mail arrives.
This one is from email@example.com, pointing out that both Topgear and Forbes had written about an Audi R8 V10 stretch limousine built for Limo Brokers, and wouldn’t that be “A good story to feature?” Sure is. It fits perfectly our “Sunday Whodunnit – Adventures in SEO Land” © 2012, BS.
Both Cars for Stars ® and Limo Broker are “Favourite Leasing Sites” of Dave`s house of instant spam. Both look like they have the same designer, actually, they do, Dreamshock. Mr. Randeva’s Transport Broker Group owns both Cars for Stars® and Limo Broker. The thick plottenz as Mr. Farago would have said.
With such a megaton of search engine optimization, the few extra hits this article will create will be a drop in the bucket, so let’s investigate further.
According to Google, Cars for Stars® is a wonderful company, providing wonderful cars. Only very persistent people who have the time to wade through the produce provided by fertile linkfarms stumble across complaints that are otherwise drowned out. At MoneySavingsExpert, a poster recommends to “avoid Cars for Stars like the plague” saying the “company is shadey & extremely slippery.” (I had to find this nugget by using the search words “Cars for Stars” and SEX - don’t ask.)
Speaking of SEX, as Cars for Stars® is heavily search engine optimized, ads for Cars for Stars® show up in the strangest of places, giving credence to the rumor that some of what happens behind that partition is not always Safe For Work. But we digress. It’s easy.
Did you know that the word “for” is trademarked? Me neither, but it is. What does that mean for you? Does that mean you have to forgo the use of “for” in your writings, forever and ever? No. You should exercise caution if you are engaged in the “Administration of employee benefit plans concerning insurance and finance” though, because these are the goods and services for which Optcapital LLC has received a trademark for FOR.
Even then, you may go ahead and write “There is no cost for for the blood glucose monitor” without receiving a note from Optcapital’s Patent Solicitors, at least not unless they want to be the joke of the bar. Why is that?
I am no lawyer, however, I spent my life around trademarks, and many years under expensive tutelage. I know enough to be dangerous.
A trademark is not a copyright. Optcapital has trademarked ‘for’, UPS even has trademarked the color brown. This does not mean that for, or brown are off-limits. You can use ‘for’ for as long as you want, and you can produce all kinds of brown shit. Just don’t call your next employee benefit plan ‘FOR’, and avoid excessive use of the color brown when you have a courier service. Using brown vans would be a bad idea.
Can a Doug Miller operate a one man railroad car rental agency called “Cars for stars” in Santa Ana, CA? He sure can. California is not in the UK, or the EU (where Cars for Stars® has a trademark, I could not find one in the U.S.A., ) and the rental of railroad cars, although perilously close, does not fall under “Class 39, Chauffeur services, limousine hire, car hire, wedding car hire, airport transport services.” Which appears the only class where Cars for Stars® asserts a trademark. All other classes are fair game. Sorry, spend more money.
Can Jaguar U.S.A. use “Cars for stars” in its website? Sure it can. If Mr. Randeva sends Jaguar an email, he probably will be ignored. Should his patent solicitors write, a Jaguar attorney will probably explain the birds & bees: Sorry, wrong country, wrong trademark class. Also, Jaguar might just have a look at the Cars for Stars® website.
Do you think Cars for Stars® has a written license for the use of trademarked logos of Range Rover®, Porsche®, Bentley®, Audi®, Lamborghini®, Jaguar®, Ferrari®, and Aston Martin®? I am sure they do.
The test for trademark infringement is likelihood of confusion. At TTAC, we write all day about GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, but we would only violate trademarks if we would start making cars. If we write that the Melbourne Grand Prix could not find a sponsor that would provide cars for the stars of a celebrity race in Australia, the likelihood of confusion with a limo service in the UK is infinitesimally low. The only confusion that might exist is with the author of the email. Or with a gullible blogger who clicks his heels and submits when such an email arrives.
When we wrote that the Melbourne Grand Prix will have to make do without the proper cars for its racing stars, we did not even know that there is a “Cars for Stars®.” But, as they say, ignorance is no defense. However, I note with great interest that Mr. Randeva (allegedly) sent me an unusual cease & desist letter. Instead of telling me to remove all mentions to the highly trademarked limo service, he gave me the option to “add a link to us www.carsforstars.net at the bottom somewhere.”
I take that as an implied non-exclusive, non-transferable, worldwide, limited license (without the right to sublicense) for the use of Cars for Stars® in Thetruthaboutcars.com™, just in case I would need such a license. Which I don’t. In any case, it is good to have.
Personally, I believe that this odd letter is another twist in the never-ending saga of search engine optimization. Again, it worked brilliantly.
Disclaimer: Cars for Stars® is a registered trademark of Cars for Stars Limited. Community Trade Mark No. 4767679 – UK Trade Mark No. 2345169