A plug for Tommy Tutone; Only a dope would sue ...; PIIPA seeks a new CEO

Squirrels, rather than Kats, are known for their diligent stockpiling - but on this occasion it is the IPKat himself who has been hoarding some choice delicacies for the delectation of his readers, both of which come from the ever-helpful Miri Frankel (it should be explained here that the word 'Beanstalk', which often follows her name in postings on this weblog, is neither her nickname nor a descriptive term but the name of the company for which she works).
The first item is all about US one-hit wonder Tommy Tutone, whose band popularised the telephone number 867-5309 in a 1982 hit single, in which that number was repeated extensively in its refrain (lyrics here). Gem Plumbing & Heating of Lincoln, Rhode Island, acquired trade mark rights to the number after its original owner ditched it, tired of prank callers. Gem’s number works in the 401 area code in Rhode Island and the 617 area code in southern Massachusetts. It faces direct competition from another plumbing business, Florida-based Clockwork Home Services, which uses a toll-free version of the same number in New England. A federal judge in Boston has barred Clockwork from using the number in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but Clockwork’s lawyers said they would fight on; their take on the legal issue is that the only telephone numbers that should be registrable as trade marks are 'vanity numbers' like 1-800-FLOWERS. Tommy Tutone (real name Tommy Heath) is reported as saying that he’d prefer neither company to use the number. The IPKat isn't qualified to pass judgment on US trade marks, but he likes to believe that any sequence of numbers can be validly registered as a trade mark, so long as they can distinguish goods and/or services and the relevant consumer knows that it's a trade mark. Merpel is stressing over the problems of non-identical infringement, though. Could use of 867-5310 be stopped by the trade mark owner, or would only the right number be covered?

The second item concerns one Kenneth Affolter, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison for making pot-laced treats and soft drinks. He apparently faces legal proceedings from US confectionery giant Hershey after giving his marijuana-based products names like Stoney Rancher, Rasta Reese's and Keef Kat, each in packaging allegedly similar to Hershey's Jolly Rancher, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat products. Alleging trade mark infringement, trade mark dilution and unfair competition, the company is seeking a mere $100,000 in damages. The IPKat thinks this is just a gesture - though it's one which will buy a lot of publicity for the brand. Merpel adds, I always wondered why the Rancher was so jolly.

The IPKat has recently received a circular email from Michael Gollin of Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors Inc (a.k.a.PIIPA). It reads, in relevant part:

"... over the past five years, through the help of the IP Corps, PIIPA has provided pro bono services in response to more than 100 requests for assistance in 20 countries, making a difference in the lives of people living there. For example, we just received word from our friends at the Haitian Intellectual Property Association that as a direct result of PIIPA's support and involvement in Haiti in 2006, Haiti has officially opened its Copyright Office, which can help protect the creative works of local artists and musicians. With your help we can double the number of projects PIIPA handles over the next 18 months, and carry out PIIPA's strategic plan for expanded public interest impact.

In order to accomplish our goals, PIIPA will need financial strength, more volunteers and widespread exposure. First, we are asking every one to consider how they can help financially, either by making a financial contribution, having an employer contribute, or suggesting other donors. To see who else is supporting PIIPA, and to make a contribution, go to www.PIIPA.org and select the SUPPORT icon.

Second, PIIPA's greatest strength is its international volunteer network, which provides the ability to help developing countries enjoy the benefits and avoid the burdens of intellectual property. If you are willing to volunteer, please do so at ... http://www.piipa.org.

Third, we also need help spreading the word about PIIPA. In addition to telling colleagues and others, we need your recommendations on how to publicize and advertise PIIPA's services to reach more people in need of assistance. Specifically, we are seeking professional newsletters, bulletins, websites, etc., that would allow PIIPA to post items about the organization's services and successes. Please send your recommendations to info@piipa.org. And of course we welcome your continued volunteer involvement with PIIPA.

... As PIIPA begins the search for a new chief executive, I ask for your help in this matter as well. If you are aware of any individuals with the desire to work in the public interest, the experience required to raise funds and manage an international non-profit organization, and a zeal for PIIPA's mission, please have them use the info@piipa.org address, or contact me directly at MAGollin@venable.com".

Says the IPKat, what PIIPA does is this, according to its website:

"What can PIIPA's IP Corps do to help?

PIIPA is building a network linking people who need help with IP professionals who can represent them. This establishes a framework for action. PIIPA's global approach can be scaled up as needed and ensures that IP professional resources are the right size, available at the right time, and in the right place

PIIPA's IP Corps can take the following specific types of actions for developing country organizations:
file patent applications
file trademark application
attack and invalidate patents
attack and invalidate trademark registrations
search and analyze patent portfolios to determine freedom to operate
negotiate bioprospecting access and benefit sharing agreements
negotiate agreements providing access to medicine
counsel governments on legislative initiatives involving IP protection, e.g. genetic resources, traditional knowledge, and access to medicine
help governments and NGOs involved in treaty negotiation
litigate patent and trademark infringement and compulsory license cases".

So if you're feeling bright, enthusiastic and idealistic, PIIPA may be just the place for you. Merpel notes: this also reads a bit like the brochure of a full-service IP law firm, doesn't it?
A plug for Tommy Tutone; Only a dope would sue ...; PIIPA seeks a new CEO A plug for Tommy Tutone; Only a dope would sue ...; PIIPA seeks a new CEO Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, May 29, 2007 Rating: 5


  1. A random (or even, in certain cases, non-random) string of numbers must in principle be capable of working as a TM.

    As for non-identical infringement, well that just depends on all the circs doesn't it ? If, eg you're intending to, ahem, 'wink at' a better known mark then beware...

    Here's another poser for Merpel to stress over though: is there a point at which the 'string' becomes too long to be memorable (and thus to function as a TM)? Answers on a postcard c/o IPKat, ECJ House, etc etc

  2. When posed this question, an official working in the German trade mark office said "nein, nein, nein".


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