The previous Sam Adams

Sam Adams

Sam Adams

The very ugly community of trademark barracudas strike again, and maybe in a really bad place this time: They’re trying to tell a candidate for office he can’t use his own name in the process of campaigning!

Maybe this will be one of the cases that helps break the back of a really foul trend in our legal system.

What happened in this case is that Portland City Council member Sam Adams has said he plans to run for mayor. His advocates include KEX radio hosts Mark and Dave, who obtained two web domain names for the candidate, samadamsformayor.com, for use in the campaign, and mayorsamadams.com if/after he’s elected.

If you click on those links you’ll see a notice that “Due to pending legal action these pages are now unavailable.” The reason for that is a cease-and-desist letter from Helen Bornemann, intellectual property manager for the Boston Beer Company. “We believe that the sale of any services or products under this name will cause confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of such services or products and/or dilute the distinctiveness of our famous trademarks and trade name.”

It is true that Adams himself didn’t file for the domains. But this action is aimed at barring him from using them anyway, and beyond that, if those two domains were a problem, presumably any domain in which Adams uses his own name would be a problem. And, as one commenter at Willamette Week asks, “Will historians have to use the little TM symbol every time they mention the real [historical] Samuel Adams now?”

The Portland Adams, no slouch at a retort: “They say they’ve been using this trademark since 1984. I’ve been using it since 1963.” Ah, but he didn’t get a lawyer to file a trademark action at the time, did he? Maybe the lesson is that we all need to, if we want to be able to use our own names without having lawyers sicced on us.

Boston Beer may wise up and withdraw; we sort of suspect they will. But we sort of hope they don’t. May the intellectual property crowd break their picks on this one.

LATER They may be backing down, in part. At a Wall Street Journal legal affairs blog: “A spokeswoman for Boston Beer called the Law Blog and said they never had an issue with the mayoral candidate using his name but they do have an issue with the radio station using Sam Adams for its own business purposes.” That’s an allegation of something that wasn’t happening to begin with.

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