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Monday, June 25, 2012

Romance Books 'R' Us Stifled by Trademark Police

We are no longer known as Romance Books 'R' Us. We are now Romance Books '4' Us.

Why?

The Toys "R" Us "trademark police" threatened legal action if we didn't change our name...namely, Geoffrey LLC (which is an intellectual property company owned by Toys "R" Us, Inc. and holds all the trademarks associated with all the "R" Us companies you're familiar with) and their NY attorneys/watchdogs who THINK our romance BOOKS group could be confused as to being a company associated with the many "R" Us brands.

The letter sent to me called Romance Books 'R' Us a "book business". Maybe I should be flattered that they even consider us a threat...but since we don't SELL books, I can't see the logic.

Now, I'll admit that I should have considered this more carefully when filing for a trademark for Romance Books 'R' Us. But since I saw other R Us groups on the trademark list (like Lights R Us, Studs R Us, etc.), I didn't figure on any trouble.

We don't SELL books. We talk about romance books and the industry. How could we possibly be confused with being associated or sponsored by the Toys "R" Us companies that sell breast pumps, teddy bears, and kids' underwear?

As organizer of a small group that TALKS about romance books/writing industry, I can't afford attorneys/court fight over this. There is no choice but to rename our blog, yahoo group, website, Twitter account, and Facebook page. Unfortunately, my having to abandon the trademark application meant losing the money that was already paid for filing.

Let's face it...the letter R they use is backwards. I assume they can use it upside down, horizontally, whatever, and they "own" any configuration of the letter R with the commonly used word, Us. Interesting that one big business can wield so much power...and spend lots of money...to OWN R Us. In fact, they even tie up using the combination of ARE US.

So recapping:
1. Geoffrey LLC as a, Toys "R" Us company, "owns" the R Us trademark...any letter R position they choose/the word ARE in combination with the word US.

2. As a big business, they can afford many trademarks to tie up these combinations AND hire watchdog attorneys to find scoundrels who DARE to trespass using THEIR words.

3. The attorney who signed the letter I received never returned a phone call. Maybe too embarrassed to speak to me? Perhaps "little people" like me don't warrant a courtesy return call?
(Shakespeare: Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." I've always loved reading Shakespeare, and, I'll note, this doesn't apply to all lawyers.)

4. Small businesses/little people like us have no chance of standing up against big name conglomerates who hire big law firms. So, we get stomped. I now lose the money it cost to file a trademark application for Romance Books 'R' Us. Big businesses can afford to lose money that probably seems like a pittance to them, but I can't...and I'm not a book business.

5.  Romance Books 'R' Us was also accused of possibly "diluting" the "distinctive quality" of the "R" Us brands. Really?
http://www.thefreedictionary.com gives this definition of dilute:
-To lessen the force, strength, purity, or brilliance of, especially by admixture.
-To decrease the value of (shares of stock) by increasing the total number of shares.

So...a group that TALKS about romance books can:
lessen the force, strength, purity, or brilliance, decrease the value of stock shares, impact the "distinctive quality" of companies represented by Geoffrey LLC?  How in the world could Romance Books 'R' Us do that? 

6. Those threatening us with legal action must think that consumers aren't smart enough to distinguish between the Toys "R" Us companies and our group.

Seriously?

I doubt ANYONE in their right mind would consider singing "I wanna be a Romance Books 'R' Us kid".  Or, come to our yahoo group, blog, or website and assume we were affiliated with/sponsored by any "R" Us company and expect to find us selling breast pumps, teddy bears, or kids' underwear. How sad that big companies don't give consumers more credit for possessing common sense.

7. I have shopped at all the "R" Us stores in the past. That ends now. I'll take my business elsewhere. In addition to Walmart and Target, here are some alternatives I'll use:

 http://www.buybuybaby.com/
 http://www.ustoy.com/

8. While I have no problem with companies trademarking their business name, it shouldn't include the ability to "own" a letter of the alphabet in combination with a commonly used word. That's a fault of how the trademark filing system works. Then again, money exchanged for "owning" R Us brings in big bucks to the Trademark system, so why would they change it?

9. If you considered trademarking Poetry R Us, think twice. For over two years, we were known as Romance Books 'R' Us...but nothing was said until I filed for a trademark.

10. If you're thinking of trademarking Potted Plants R Us, Drain Cleaners R Us, or Toilets R Us, you'll be sniffed out by Geoffrey LLC's "R" Us watchdogs. After all, consumers might think you're selling breast pumps, teddy bears, or kids' underwear.

Be warned. Big NY attorney hired "trademark police" are out there waiting for you.

IF you'd like to voice your opinion to Toys "R" Us, here are some ways to contact the company:

CEO Gerald Storch
Toys“R”Us, Inc.
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, NJ 07470


Customer Relations:
contactus@toysrus.com
Media Relations:
Press@toysrus.com

If you voice your opinion about this:
Please assure Toys "R" Us that you were in no way misled to believe that Romance Books 'R' Us claimed any association/affiliation to any of their stores or products...and that they lost no sales by our TALKING about romance books at our yahoo group, blog, Facebook Page, Twitter page, or website. 

The name Marianne is trademarked as a clothing brand. So, does that mean I need to worry about "trademark police" tracking me down for using my first name? Is YOUR name trademarked? Sandy, Adele, Cara, Desiree are. And, Teacher and Nurse are Trademarked. If you want to search your name, go to http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4001:1j9pes.9.1 and click on Basis Search. On the next page type in your name in Search Term, hit live, and submit.

IF you'd like to voice your opinion to The US Patent and Trademark Office about their system allowing one group to "own" a letter of the alphabet combined with a commonly used word OR that a name can be trademarked, use this email:  TMFeedback@uspto.gov



Thanks
Marianne Stephens

25 comments:

Miriam Newman said...

Yet another example of how influences we never think will impact our happy little writing world can destroy it when we're not watching. Ignorance is not bliss. Thanks for the warning, Marianne. Sorry you had to go through this.

Fiona McGier said...

Years ago I read about a British woman who owned a small tea and sandwich shop in London, catering to the lawyers who worked at the courthouse across the street. She called her place McMunchies. I'm sure you can guess who was suing her. Her customers offered to represent her pro-bono, figuring the suit was so ridiculous it would be thrown out. Nope.

I wrote a letter to the HQ complaining that they have no right to trademark all names/words that begin with Mc. The clans of Scotland have used surnames with Mc and Mac for generations. I got no response from them, but I copied the reporter who was based in London. He sent my letter on to the woman who called me from London to thank me for my support. She said she had heard of a card company in CA being sued for calling themselves McGreetings.

I was also contacted by the honorable head of the Clan McDonald, whose first name was...you guessed it, Ronald. He sent me paperwork making me an official guardian of the Clan McDonald. He also asked if there were any cliffs near Oakbrook IL. Seems that in the old days when a clan was insulted, either the 7th son of a 7th son would be asked to curse the offenders, or they would be tossed off the nearest cliff. I explained there were only tall buildings, no cliffs.

I haven't eaten at a McD's since then and I never will. I know they don't need my money, but it gives me a small measure of satisfaction to know that I'm not adding my money to their profits so they can sue more little people.

I will add the stores you mentioned to my list of places to avoid. You fought the good fight, but their pockets are always deeper. Sad.

Marianne Stephens said...

McD's sues people for using a name? It's so crazy. Thanks for your story, Fiona. The Trademark system needs an overhaul and more sensible approach to how they issue Trademarks. Like I said, names are Trademarked, as stupid as that seems!

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks, Miriam. So much fuss over a small book group that poses no threat to all the Geoffrey LLC companies.
Now they'll lose my business...and I have 11 grandchildren!

Sultry Summers said...

Toys"R"Us won't get any of my business from now on! I can't stand such practices. This is an prime example of big business going viral. And what destroyed Rome? Internal nonsense like this and we are getting to that level real fast. Marianne you know my opinion, I've e-mailed it to you on several ocassions. I fully support you. They can take their R and turn it any way they want it.
Actually, I rather like your new name. From what I last heard their stock has dropped off and they've had to close several stores - gee I wonder why?
Sultry

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks for your support, Sultry. And your messages have made me feel better about this whole stupid thing. Small businesses - and I'm not even a business! - just part of the "little people" that make up the world of consumers, have to realize how much power these companies have. RBRU was certainly no threat to them...but that made no difference.

Lily said...

Sorry you had to go through this, Marianne. Just so you know I haven't stepped inside a Toy R Us store for years - ever since one of their sales staff was rude to me about a product I'd bought that had clearly been purchased and played with and broken by another customer and then returned to the store only to be sold on to me at full price! Not good to find on Xmas morning.

L x

Tina Donahue said...

Give it time. They'll go out of business like a lot of other companies in this country. With this kind of behavior, it'll serve them right.

Harlie Reader said...

Its just sad. Don't they have anything better to do then pick on people. As a mother of a 7 year old, I haven't been into a Toys R Us in forever and I'm not going to ever again. Idiots...

Marika

Adele Dubois said...

I can relate, Marianne. Sorry you have to deal with this crazy situation. If it's any consolation, I like the new name better.

Best--Adele

Sharon Cullen said...

I haven't shopped at Toys R Us for years. Their stores have gone down hill and are trashy (as in unclean) and their employees rude. I will definitely write a letter to them--the big bullies.

kittyb78 said...

I agree, totally ridiculous. How can anyone confuse romance books that are not sold, as having anything to do with toys?

Tanya Hanson said...

It's all nonsense. My editors are running so scared I can't even use stuff like Prius or Dodge Ram to differentiate what my characters drive. You have heard about the romance author whose actual first name is ADELE and the singer's "people" have filed against her using her OWN NAME that because, (eye roll) "Adele" owns the tradmark to a NAME. Disgusted...

Debby said...

I was amazed to hear this. I also found it amusing as I begin to wonder why they don't have better things to do witheir lives.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Sorry you had to go through this, Marianne. It boggles my mind that these attorneys probably have student "aides" who do nothing all day but troll the Internet looking for people to bully. Because that's really what it is.

Ania said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy Francis said...

These trademark threats have gotten ridiculous. The whole idea of trademarking was to keep competitors from trading on another company's established name, not to create an environment where companies can go after anyone for the most remote connection to the trademark.

This spring, a pub in UK called The Hobbit, which has been in business for 20 years, got in trouble with a much newer company that holds all the merchandising rights to Tolkein's world. After an outcry from many, including stars from the Lord of the Rings movies, the trademark holder backed down and agreed to let the pub continue if it pays $100 a year in licensing fees. A couple of the movie stars even offered to pay the yearly fee.

I think publicity and shedding light on the trademark police's doings is a great way to fight back. I will be sending many letters today in response to this craziness.

VICKI BATMAN, said...

Just a darn hassle, Marianne. Thank you for taking this on.

jean hart stewart said...

I boil over every time I think of this needless persecution. What a brou-ha-ha caused again by the big guys. No more ToyrUs for me. My grandkids can get along with Target or Costco.

Paris said...

I can't believe after all of the hard work, not to mention the money spent that you've put into RBRU you were forced to change the name because of the corp that shall remain nameless.

As for their fear of "diluting" their brand, they've managed to do that on their own. I have no intention of ever shopping there again.

Benjamin Kelly said...

Hi guys,

A little help please. I've searched your site from top to bottom and can't find the Attorney Bob Big Foot Little Business Squashing action figure anywhere.

-Sigh-

All this overbearing legal nonsense makes me nauseous. I've been boycotting a certain singer whose name I'm afraid to type. I'll add this retailer to my list as well.

I like the new name.

Tara Manderino said...

Just when I calm down from dealing with everyday stupidity, I come across this. It's so absurd I can't even find the right words. Let's hope 4 isn't trademarked somewhere. *rolling eyes* There must be some totally freakin' bored attorneys out there trying to justify why they should be on a payroll.

Marianne Stephens said...

Thank you ALL for your comments...it verifies for me that I'm not crazy in thinking this is pathetically stupid.
Benjamin, if I ever find the Squashing action figure, I'll let you know because I'll buy one!

JaneE2059 said...

Marianne--I'm sorry you had to go through the upheaval of changing the group's name, just because a
"corporation that shall remain nameless" decided they had a right to interfere with your life. They must think their customers are stupid if they thought those customers would confuse books with toys. Best wishes with the new group name!

Sandy said...

Marianne, I've been worried about my name ever since the problem with Adele's name. It makes you wonder if it's worth it to stay in this business.

I do like the new name. I just hope there aren't any other problems.

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