Sunday February 19, 2006

Neiman Barkus

Neiman Barkus is a cute little store in Wilton Mannors, and they’re being bullied by Neiman Marcus to try to make them give up their name and URL, neimanbarkuspet.net. Neiman Marcus has been doing this to pet stores with the same name around the country, and William Thomson, owner of the Broward store, is the first to stand up them. Dean Trantalis is a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and a lawyer; he got interested in the case and is representing Thomson:

This big Goliath wants to beat up on my little puppy, and we are not going to let them do it . . . There can be no consumer confusion between Neiman Marcus and Neiman Barkus because they have different names, different products and different clients.

I’m not a lawyer myself, but I’ve followed a number of situations similar to this, and it’s clear to me that this is decidedly not about is a legitimate claim of trademark infringement or dilution. Neiman Marcus’ lawyer practically says so himself: “Several [other owners of stores called Neiman Barkus] have said, at first blush, that they’d fight it, but none have.”

Their demanding the URL is particularly absurd. See the case of The Shops at Willow Bend for an example of one case of a large company bullying the little guy which dragged on for years, cost the company lots and lots of money and both parties lots and lots of time, and ended in victory for the defendant.

I’m not sure what the status of wrongful or groundless threats of infringement laws is in Florida (anyone?), but I do think that any trademark purity Neiman Marcus has to gain from this will be at the expense of a significant public relations cost. After all, not even the snobbiest of rich people likes a bully, especially when they’re going after someone who’s got fancy stuff for their Brussels Griffons, right?

Update: Two other legal point I’ll throw out for consideration: This use of the Neiman Barkus name seems like a very clear case of parody, a particularly well established sense of fair use. Secondly (probably less significantly), and I think this is in the Wikipedia article I linked at the top of this post, business that are named after people (say, Ford, or Neiman Marcus) enjoy less legal protection of their names then companies with names that are made up, like Sony or Exxon.

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  1. Manola B    Sun Feb 19, 12:41 PM #  

    Um, does this mean Paris Hilton will sue herself?



  2. john    Sun Feb 19, 09:03 PM #  

    Here’s Johnny..quite contrary.

    I can see Neiman Marcus at some point in the future offering a full line of dog care products with dog care salons. More importantly Neiman Markus spends a good deal of money popularizing their brand and Neiman Barkus seems to think it is okay to save marketing money by piggy backing that.

    Psyche!

    Here is the REAL point. I find it impossible (and a few other things) to muster indignation about the naming of a store that caters to obscenely priced dog pampering. Nah, I think I’ll save it for other things.



  3. alesh    Mon Feb 20, 09:33 AM #  

    Sorry john: in no way does naming a store “Neiman Barkus” piggyback on Neiman Marcus’ marketing (had you ever heard of it before this legal intimidation? No), nor could you even argue that that was NB’s intent.

    Pet stores try to pick names that are cute. That’s all that “Neiman Barkus” signifies – a clever twist on a store for adults.

    Oh, also, see my update.



  4. maybe yes, maybe no    Mon Feb 20, 04:55 PM #  

    Nobody from Neiman Marcus has bothered me in the 16 years I’ve practiced osteopathic surgery, earning the nickname “Knee Man.”
    —J. Markus, M.D.



  5. Hose B    Tue Feb 21, 04:27 PM #  

    Trust me: This litigation will be tossed out faster than you can “Barstucks.”



  6. Bill Thomson    Fri Feb 24, 01:57 AM #  

    I’m sorry but we don’t cater to obscenely priced dog pampering, but we are guilty of carrying fun items, gifts, novelties, treats, and yes we certainly do carry designer carriers. We are also an ardent supporter of stopping puppy mills, the pet project, and a number of rescue organizations. As a matter of fact we are probably the only “obscenely priced” store that proudly displays the stop puppy mill logo and has a story telling the truth about puppy store puppies, what they are, and what you do by buying them. I never thought I’d see the day that our disposable society would be breeding god’s creatures for disposable purposes.



  7. John (Apologies Bill)    Fri Feb 24, 08:56 AM #  

    Well (huffily), you tooooold me (sarcastically)! I kid, I kid!!! I’m a an old time dog lover, going way back to ya grandmutha…

    I may disagree with what I see as obscenely priced dog trinkets, and it has something to do with the underlying message of values.

    But someone that feels as strongly as you do about puppy mills (which I also vehemently oppose) speaks to a warmth and compassion that I am sure carries over to all of God’s creatures. Dogs especially are entrusted to us, coming into the world and dependent upon our compassion and care. Totally with you. Now cats…

    Disposable society indeed…



  8. bill thomson    Wed Mar 1, 02:26 AM #  

    Just noticed the web url for us was wrong! Last thing I need is to wind up someone else. The correct addy is www.neimanbarkuspet.net Thanks!