When IP Enforcement Gets Aggressive

Steve Levy ⬥ 27 May

According to a recent article that appeared in Bloomberg, Entrepreneur Media, Inc. (EMI), the company that publishes the eponymous Entrepreneur magazine, has garnered a reputation of doing exactly the opposite of what it claims to do – “smash[ing] the dreams” of self-starters.

In other words, EMI fiercely defends its intellectual property rights to the term “Entrepreneur,” and aggressively pursues anything it considers to be an infringement on that trademark. The company maintains that it only goes after infringers “in appropriate circumstances, when a third-party use is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace,” but occasionally ventures into dubious territory. For example, back in 2001, it managed to get the nonprofit Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University to change the title of its quarterly alumni newsletter, “The Entrepreneur”.

Such actions have led some, namely those who feel slighted by EMI’s actions, to view the company in a less than favorable light. Scott Smith, a public relations professional from California, operated a firm called EntrepreneurPR until 2003. EMI successfully sued him for infringement and a federal judge ordered Smith to drop his firm name, stop publishing a quarterly collection of press releases titled “Entrepreneur Illustrated,” and to pay EMI over $1 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. Smith is convinced that EMI protects its brand by rolling over smaller capitalists, and even that it uses the legal damages it collects as a source of revenue.

Most recently, EMI has gone after Daniel R. Castro, a Texas entrepreneur, with a cease and desist letter ordering him to stop using the domain name EntrepreneurOlogy.com. In response to the letter, Castro quipped, “I mean, how is ‘entrepreneurology,’ a word I have to admit you can barely pronounce, going to cut into their business?”

Of course, EMI is tasked with protecting a trademark that is a descriptive term, which is no easy undertaking, as the line between descriptive use and trademark use is often unclear. The company argues that while Castro has the right to use the word “Entrepreneur” in a generic sense, he crossed the infringement line when he began using it for his communications business. While this is a valid point, this aggressive approach could end up hurting EMI’s brand reputation in the long run through this constant antagonism. 

Tags: Bloomberg, California, Carnegie Mellon University, Daniel R. Castro, domain names, Donald H. Jones Center, enforcement, Entrepreneur Media Inc. [EMI], EntrepreneurPR, magazine, public relations, Scott Smith, trademark

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