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Sep 16 2012

Neiman Marcus attacks Women’s Shelter over name

Neiman Marcus apparently has a brand they’ve trademarked called “LAST CALL” through which they sell high-end clothes.

Columbia, SC, has a charity resale store called “Revente’s Last Call“, which is essentially a Goodwill, that gives all of its procedes to the local Women’s Shelter.

RLC was opened in 2010 to benefit The Women’s Shelter. We donate ALL of our net profits to the shelter and also clothe those in need through referrals from various local agencies.  As of May 1, 2012 we have donated over $40,000 to the Womens Shelter.

Well, Neiman Marcus is apparently concerned that “Revente’s Last Call” is going to be confused with “Last Call with Carson Daly” “Last Call by Neiman Marcus” and has sent a letter threatening to take legal action against the charity.

Sometimes, corporations have just no idea that they are coming across as complete jackasses, do they?

My immediate instinct would be to encourage a boycott of the local Neiman Marcus but, oops, there isn’t a Neiman Marcus in Columbia, SC.  In fact, there’s not a Neiman Marcus in the ENTIRE state.  But they feel really threatened by The Women’s Shelter charity anyway, I guess.  Their Facebook statement to the complaints:

Like all businesses, we have a responsibility to protect our trademarks. Our VP of corporate communications can be reached at (214) 573-5822 if you would like a more detailed statement from us. Thank you.

Oh hey, look there’s a number we can all call!  So call that, and if you want to write about this and help ensure they get the bad PR they deserve, please do! I will even link to you if you want!

And here’s a wonderful suggestion by Christopher Bickel:

Neiman’s team could have been more proactive in sending a letter stating “We believe that your store’s name unintentionally infringes on our mark, but we are prepared to help you defray the costs of changing it in light of the mission of your organization” or alternatively “we would be happy to allow you a non-exclusive license to use the mark so long as your store continues to serve the community as a non-profit.” Sometimes protecting your PR is as important as protecting your legal rights.

The fact is, Neiman could have been a lot better about this in a dozen ways.  For example, picking up the phone and calling the charity instead of sending them a legal letter.

My recommendation to all corporations: Before you wave around your legal dick to threaten people over sketchy, petty bullshit, make sure you’re not doing it to a company that does something like feed orphans, save battered women, or clothe homeless vets.

48 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    The head of the Neiman Marcus public relations department has probably already sent a nasty email to the corporate counsel telling them that suing charities over trivia is not generally a good idea.

  2. 2
    jamesskaar

    i swear, it was just a few years ago something similar happened, charity and store, i thought it was friggin ludicrous then too.

  3. 3
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail.

  4. 4
    Aliasalpha

    I get you have to defend trademarks or you lose them but this is a particularly inane one when some form of agreement could be reached…

  5. 5
    georgewiman

    Also they could avoid getting their knickers in a knot over a trademark that contains a common phrase in our culture spelled in the ordinary way. “Last Call” is a thing in every bar ever, the name of many songs by different artists going way back, and probably a bunch of other stuff before their stupid trademark ever came along.

  6. 6
    debbiemcdaniel

    We never, ever intended to mislead anyone into thinking our shop was anything more than an extension of Revente and a charity resale shop.
    Since our “mother ship’s” name was attached, who in the world would connect it to a store that is simply named “Last Call”?

  7. 7
    Anonymous Atheist

    Indeed.

  8. 8
    leftwingfox

    Anyone heard the story of Disney and the Daycares?

    http://www.snopes.com/disney/wdco/daycare.asp

    Back in 1989, Disney sued three daycares for having murals depicting Disney characters without authorization on their walls. Universal Studios (who at the time were linked to Hanna-Barberra) then came in and repainted the walls with Hanna-Barberra characters and had a grand opening with the costumed mascots visiting the kids.

    Definitely make sure this goes to the traditional media. Perhaps some other corporation will see the opportunity in being linked charitably to your organization at the expense of Neiman Marcus.

  9. 9
    jamessweet

    At least part of the problem here is with US trademark law rather than with Neiman Marcus per se. When they say in their statement that they “have a responsibility to protect [their] trademarks”, they aren’t just whistling dixie: Under US law, if you don’t protect your trademarks you can lose them. If enough people are violating your trademark and you are not trying to stop it, the trademark can become invalidated. You don’t really have the right under US trademark law to decide who you are going to bother pursuing for infringement and who you aren’t: You either pursue everybody, or your risk not being able to pursue anybody.

    Not saying this makes it all fine and dandy, but it’s not quite as simple as saying Neiman Marcus should just choose to turn a blind eye because it’s a charity. They’d probably have to give the charity special permission to use the trademark or something, and that’s probably far from an automatic thing for their legal department.

  10. 10
    jamessweet

    But with trademarks, it depends whether it is the same type of business (IANAL, so I forget the actually technical term I’m referring to here, but the general gist should be clear). So if you have a trademarked line of clothing called “Last Call”, a bar or TV show called “Last Call” is probably not infringing. Another line of clothing called “Last Call” would definitely be an infringement. A second hand clothing store for a charity, that’s somewhat borderline, but I imagine a judge would probably agree that it was infringement.

    Not defending anybody (or condemning, for that matter), just trying to clarify why there can be a zillion bars called “Last Call” that don’t get a C&D, but one charity clothing shop does.

  11. 11
    kathy gaffos

    REALLY NEIMAN MARCUS????? UNDER WHAT DELUSION ARE YOU SUFFERING THAT YOU WOULD PICK ON AN ESTABLISHMENT LIKE REVENTE’S? MUCHO BAD KARMA IMO

  12. 12
    ericblair

    “IANAL” – Just what the hell does that mean?

  13. 13
    ericblair

    “Aspirin”, “escalator” and “cellophane” all used to be trademarked names. In the 1980s, Parker Brothers came very close to losing the trademark for the Monopoly game because they did not pursue a vigorous defense against the people who sold a game emphasizing co-operation titled Anti-Monopoly. It may look like bullying to some, but when push comes to shove, Nieman-Marcus, like any other company large or small, have to be able to demonstrate, should it become necessary, that they did take steps to defend their trademarks, and it’s strictly first come, first serve. On the flip side of the coin, in another 1980s case, NBC changed its traditional peacock logo to a stylized ‘N’ and were successfully sued by Nebraska Public Television which had been using the same ‘N’ with a different color scheme for many years. NBC ponied up and went back to the peacock.

    Pick up a copy of Writers’ Digest sometime and check out the classifieds and small ads towards the back of the magazine. You’ll find notices from companies to people who are professional writers or are aspiring towards that goal asking that their trademarks be respected – e.g., that writers use “photocopy” in their prose and fiction instead of “Xerox copy”.

    There’s an old principle among science fiction writers called the Smerp Rule: “Some people thing that if you have a story about rabbits and you want it to be a science fiction story, all you have to do is change the rabbits to smerps and ‘poof!’ science fiction”. Sorry, but in real life or in the world of fiction, that rabbit don’t breed.

  14. 14
    ericblair

    Sorry. That should have been, “first come, first served and “think” instead of “thing”.

  15. 15
    cafeeineaddicted

    I Am Not A Lawyer

  16. 16
    ericblair

    Oh. Well IANAMR, AIDLPWUIIOW.

  17. 17
    machintelligence

    I recall that decades ago a children’s magazine called Small Street Journal was sued for copyright infringement by the Wall Street Journal publishers. I can find no record of the outcome of that suit(I suspect it was dropped in embarrassment), but Auburn, California chamber of commerce now has a newsletter with that title, so they must no longer think that it is an infringement.

  18. 18
    dukeofomnium

    In all fairness to the Evil Corporation, they are required to vigorously defend their trademarks, and if they fail (or refuse) to do so, they could actually lose them (this is why nylon, cellophane and even aspirin are now common nouns).

    That being said, they seem petty and vindictive. Watch for them to fold quickly, perhaps by granting a free or nominal license for the name.

  19. 19
    Artor

    Jack Daniels recently solved a much more blatant copyright dispute with an amazing degree of class. Everyone was happy, and JD got shit-tons of good press over it. Neiman Marcus could have done this, but they’re jackasses apparently.

    http://abovethelaw.com/2012/07/cease-and-desist-letter-of-the-day-captain-jack-doesnt-need-mean-lawyers/

  20. 20
    jamesskaar

    remember that line about not attributing to malice what is more likely to be stupidity? perhaps they hired lawyers that figure a shot across the bow is most effective when it leaves a mark.

  21. 21
    B-Lar

    ericblair,

    http://www.internetslang.com/ was the fourth hit from googling “Common internet abbreviations”. I didnt find yours on there though…

  22. 22
    ericblair

    I AM Not A Mind Reader + And I Don’t Like People Who Use Initials Instead Of Words.

    If I have to look something up by using a search engine to find some obscure bit of internet slang, the person writing the message isn’t communicating – just being a juvenile twit.

  23. 23
    georgewiman

    EricBlair, IANAL is not obscure. It’s been around for years. And various kinds of shorthand permeate almost all communication, no? For instance you managed to tell us you are too important to look up an unfamiliar word or acronym, without having to state it in so many words. Well done.

  24. 24
    B-Lar

    I was able to look at your initialisation and deduce what you were saying, but thanks for spelling it out for those who are not inclined to guess.

  25. 25
    B-Lar

    ZING!

  26. 26
    ericblair

    What it tells me is that you are too caught up in your idea of a little boys’ club – “no outsiders allowed” that it’s more important for you to giggle among yourselves that actually say anything.

    Faex! Futurum, ut omnes Lorem ipsum dolor sit Postings Latine. Soli Linguæ bonæ sunt Linguæ mortuæ.

  27. 27
    georgewiman

    Oh, well you see, some of us prefer to use live tongues.

    It depends on what you want to accomplish, I suppose. If you’re going to say “What the hell does that mean” every time you encounter some common bit of Internet culture you’re going to do less communicating and more Latin dueling.

  28. 28
    ericblair

    Wel, gee, I thought the whole point of a blog was communicating, not belittling people. I also expected better from something calling itself a “freethought Blog”. Instead, what I find is a bunch of people ith their minds still in kindergarten playing a verbal game of keep-away.

    “If you’re going to say “What the hell does that mean” every time you encounter some common bit of Internet culture you’re going to do less communicating and more Latin dueling.”

    If you’re going to form a kiddie club instead of communicating, you don’t deserve to be heard. Go change your diapers kiddies, you’re starting to stink. This isn’t a blog, it’s an online treehouse with a sign on the ladder reading “assholes only.”

  29. 29
    georgewiman

    Wow, project much, EricBlair?

  30. 30
    B-Lar

    There is no club from which you are excluded. Only the club from which you exclude yourself.

    The point that I was trying to make is that before blaming your bafflement on those around you, you can take reasonable steps to educate yourself. That you appear to feel above that lumps you in with the people who demand to be taught rather than seek out their own learning.

  31. 31
    jamessweet

    If I have to look something up by using a search engine to find some obscure bit of internet slang, the person writing the message isn’t communicating – just being a juvenile twit.

    LOL, WTF?!

    EricBlair, IANAL is not obscure. It’s been around for years. And various kinds of shorthand permeate almost all communication, no?

    QFT.

    You know what’s even worse than “huvenile twits” who use extraordinarily common internet slang on, uh, the internet? Those smarty pants who use BIG WORDS that I have to look up because I don’t know the meaning of them. If the purpose of writing a message is communicating, why do people have to use words I don’t understand!!!

    Somebody told me that was a narcissistic attitude, but I don’t know what that word means, and there’s no fucking way I am going to take thirty second to look it up. That would mean giving in to the juvenile twit who called me narcissistic, whatever that means. He should care more about me and my time!

  32. 32
    jamessweet

    Oh, by the way ericblair, in case you are still having trouble… I see other people have already explained what IANAL means, but that is not the only acronym I used in my comment — I also used the obscure term “TV”.

    In case you were wondering, TV stands for “Go fuck yourself.”

  33. 33
    jamessweet

    Seriously, though, it’s funny you didn’t complain about my use of “C&D”, which actually is somewhat obscure and I probably should have explained it. (It’s “cease and desist”, which is the letter a law office sends to somebody who is violating a trademark, telling them to stop.)

    But you know, it’s fine to use acronyms that ericblair already knows. It only makes you a bad communicator if ericblair doesn’t know the acronym.

  34. 34
    jamessweet

    What does NBC stand for?

  35. 35
    jamessweet

    Careful, Kathy. Did you check to see if ericblair knows what “IMO” means? Cuz if not, you are a bad communicator.

  36. 36
    ashleybell

    “I get you have to defend trademarks or you lose them”

    If it’s a registered trademark, then the trademark would belong to the first register. It would have to be that way I think. Plus the Trademark is “Nieman Marcus’ Last Call”… No one would get to register or claim right to just the words ‘Last Call’…I could be wrong though. I remember a few years back That country singer Garth Brooks and some rap artist sued each other for the use of the single letter ‘G’…No shit. And talk about almost 0 market overlap.

  37. 37
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    That about sums up every aspect of Marcus’ action.

  38. 38
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Trademark law is for consumer protection, it isn’t about corporate intellectual property. There can be possibly no confusion between these two uses of the phrase. There is no reason (and legally, no grounds, but some courts have been ridiculously stupid about this) for Marcus to make a claim against the charity shop. (Although I’d have to say that at least they were on the right planet – both uses can be construed to have something remotely to do with clothing.)

  39. 39
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Nothing But Clarity

  40. 40
    pipenta

    And every once in a while, roaring mice triumph!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Bookstore_Cooperative

  41. 41
    tommykey

    I scrolled over most of the comments, so apologies in advance if I am repeating something someone else already wrote.

    I work as a trademark paralegal whose firm represents clients who sometimes sends out cease and desist letters like the one Ashley writes about. while it is true that the recipient of the threat in and of itself might not represent a terrible infringement of the complainant’s mark, the thinking generally is that if you tolerate one here or one there, over time it accumulates so that a future defendant will argue, “Well, Neiman Marcus apparently can coexist with A, B and C, so they can coexist with us too.”

    As for the tone of their letter, yes, the idea is to try to be a bit intimidating. It’s really a bluff, hoping the recipient will be cowed by it. However, if the recipient of the letter replies, explaining the difficulty of changing the name, and agreeing to cooperate in return for time and/or a little financial compensation to change the name, the complainer will generally go along with it.

    In the case of the shelter, I have no doubt that if they responded to Neiman requesting say 6 months to change their name that Neiman would give them the six months.

  42. 42
    mutuelle optique

    mutuelle optique

  43. 43
    ericblair

    “I think you must learn – if you’re in any filmmaking – you must respect the single frame. And there are twenty-four of those per second. If you don’t respect that single frame you’re in the same boat with a writer who does not respect a sentence or a phrase or a single letter or whatever. You have to find the smallest unit and you have to love it and believe that one will make a difference. One frame to me will make the difference between whether the thing’s funny or not.”

    — Chuck Jones

  44. 44
    ericblair

    FY

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  1. 49
    Neiman Marcus vs. battered women | Alethian Worldview

    [...] more at Neiman Marcus attacks Women’s Shelter over name. Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTwitterPress ThisDiggStumbleUponReddit Posted in Business, [...]

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