By on January 22, 2012

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 tej@transportbrokergroup.co.uk who writes:

“Hi,

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.

Regards,

Tej Randeva
CEO

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 marketing@limobroker.co.uk, 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

 

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28 Comments on “Sunday Follies. Adventures in SEO Land©: Cars for Stars® v.v. TTAC™ – Brilliant, Or “Shadey & Extremely Slippery?”...”


  • avatar
    Strippo

    Well I’m glad we sorted that out. #becarefulwhatyouaskfor

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Please confirm once this has been sorted as we were alerted by our Patent Solicitors.

    I do hope that those attorneys know how to use Google. But if they don’t, they should look up the term “fair use.”

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think it even falls under fair use because Bertel’s not using it as a trademark. I don’t know about trademark law in the UK but in the US, a trademark is registered for specific use. So, to protect its use on apparel, Chrysler had to file a separate trademark application for “Imported From Detroit” for use on apparel. That in no way prevents publishers from using the phrase “imported from Detroit” in their publishing.

      I could register the name “First Person Shooter” for use in video games (it’s available, btw). That might give me rights to prevent other video game publishers from using the phrase in common usage (but why would I? the whole point of trademarking a known phrase is to get publicity benefits when others use the phrase), but it wouldn’t do anything to keep reviewers from describing a game as a “first person shooter”.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        It is a fair use issue. There is nothing wrong with mentioning the name of a company and its slogans, just so long as one doesn’t appropriate them for one’s own benefit.

        If I want to write an article or an advertisement that makes reference to Coca Cola and its use of the slogan “It’s the Real Thing” (even in a snarky, but non-libelous fashion), then that is not a problem. That is a matter of fair use.

        If I start producing a beverage and use the slogan “It’s the Real Thing” in order to promote it, then I have crossed a line and will almost certainly be stopped. (That is probably true even if this beverage of mine isn’t brown and fizzy.) That sort of use goes beyond fair use; in that case, I’m trying to steal IP owned by Coca Cola, and that is not permitted.

      • 0 avatar

        You may be right. It might technically be a fair use, but when people use “fair use” as a defense, they’ve deliberately, not unknowingly, used a trademark or a copyrighted work. Bertel wasn’t even using it as a commercial slogan in the sense that there’s any possibility of confusion, let alone a likelihood. I think the shakedown attempt was so silly that it doesn’t rise to a fair use issue. Judges in the US don’t like to hear First Amendment defenses in trademark and copyright infringement cases. On the other hand they don’t like to hear figures of speech litigated.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        when people use “fair use” as a defense, they’ve deliberately, not unknowingly, used a trademark or a copyrighted work.

        That has nothing to do with it.

        The concept is referred to as nominative fair use. One can discuss someone’s trademark freely, just so long as it is clear to the audience that the usage isn’t misrepresented or likely to be misrepresented by the audience. For example, if TTAC wants to compare a particular model of Subaru to a flying vagina, then the reader needs to understand that it isn’t Subaru that is making such a comparison.

        Nominative fair use is specifically protected in the trademark statute. Without nominative fair use, it wouldn’t be possible for this website or for anyone else to mention any car brand or nameplate without first obtaining the permission of the automakers. It would be like a massive corporate gag order.

        Mr. Schmitt is right, these guys just wanted the SEO benefit of getting linked. To anyone who is familiar with these laws, the veiled legal threat was a complete joke.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    Cars for Stars® once paid me ten quid to take a few snaps while I ate from container of relish wearing only a nurses hat. They used one of the rare green Beau Brownies otherwise I would have refused – no tawdry cameras is my rule. True story.

  • avatar

    This is the first case I’ve ever seen of an SEO shakedown… and it’s actually vaguely brilliant in a conscience-free kind of a way. TTAC should start sending these takedown/shakedown letters to any website using the letters to every website in which the words truth and car appear on the same page. If one tenth of them link back to us for fear of our awesome army of lawyers (not to mention our bulletproof global trademark on the concept of interpreting automotive truth), we would be the kings of Google!

    By the way, this whole SEO concept is the easy/”cost effective” way to build traffic online. Doing it the way TTAC has, with timely, relevant, informative and entertaining content is actually “doing it the hard way.”

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    Is this an example of German humour? Having worked for two German companies I can tell you its an acquired taste… like Schweinshaxe.

    It sounds like a obtuse way to stir up a hornet’s nest of sorts.

    Usually it is the US stirring for a copyright fight, not the damn Europeans/English!

  • avatar

    Their extortion attempt makes it impossible for me to do business with them, but I was curious enough to check out their web site. The copy was obviously written for Google, not for humans. The way it was written completely turned me off, because it sounded totally phony. That’s the price of obsessive SEO and I’m not sure if it’s a price worth paying. I’ll search for, visit and revisit sites I like.

    I always wonder why sites like this are so unwilling to provide prices. I certainly would be tempted to offer 50 USD a day for that Rolls Royce since, after all, I have no idea how much it is actually worth. I’m sure they get plenty of time-wasting offers like that which they cannot, under any circumstances, convert into customers. Why not just tell people the price, so they know whether they can afford the service?

    D

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Do a Bing search for ‘ “cars for stars” Usa ‘

    2nd Bing Page

    Jaguar USA – Cars for stars

    Will the Patent Solicitors be going after them?

  • avatar
    Travis

    Thoroughly great read. Would read again A++++

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    I doubt you can ‘trademark’ something that can be reasonably used as regular words. If they actually try to go to court they’ll have a tough time to get any judge not to throw the case out immediately. “Good Morning” for example is used is some kind of brand, but I doubt they can sue any one using the phrase to greet someone.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Just you wait whilst I ring up my solicitor. You may expect a whopping lawsuit for infringing upon my business name “Cars4Stars Wart and Corn Removal Shoppes LTD.”. (Located in better strip malls in the quad-state area.) Coming soon to an outlet mall just outside of your metropolitan area. Be advised. Be very advised.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    And the ad by Google at the bottom of my page… LIMOS.COM… hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    This just may be proof that the world is going to end in 2012. Or at least that it should happen.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Thanks for bringing to light yet another member of the aggressively ignorant groups who claim extended rights where none are to be found.

    Another amusing read for those who have not yet heard of it is the Blue Jeans Cable vs Monster Cable smackdown of 2008. All pages are worth reading, although the real fun begins near the bottom of page 5.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    @ Mr. Whopee- Elvis Presley Enterprises actually tried to tradmark the words “Thank you very much”. Unsucsessfully.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    There are people out there trying to copyright numbers and patent the circle. Ignore these trolls.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    At some point sanity will have to prevail.


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