McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
"You're fired." Maybe your boss can say it without blinking, but the producer of Donald Trump's reality show, "The Apprentice," holds a registered trademark on the phrase.
"Let's get ready to rumble." But first, let's check with wrestling announcer Michael Buffer. When used in entertainment or for marketing, the slogan is his intellectual property.
Hallmark Cards Inc. says it was just dishing up satire with a greeting card spoofing "Paris' First Day as a Waitress." There's a photo of Hilton's face superimposed on a cartoon waitress telling her customer, "Don't touch that, it's hot." The customer asks, "What's hot?" and the waitress says, "That's hot."
Legally, the question isn't "What's hot?" but who owns the rights to "That's hot." A lawsuit against Hallmark, filed last week by the Los Angeles socialite, notes that the federal patent office in February issued to her a registered trademark on the term "That's hot" for its use in apparel.
Is this licensing of common sentences troubling to you?
Is that your final answer? Careful, Disney Enterprises has applied for that trademark.
McDonald's Corp. got trademark protection on "I'm lovin' it." The NBA owns "slam dunk." And one of the NBA's most successful figures, coach Pat Riley, registered the rights to "three-peat," referring to the Los Angeles Lakers' pursuit of three straight basketball crowns in the late 1980s.
His Lakers fell short, but Riley scooped up royalties on "three-peat" when the Chicago Bulls won three straight titles.
At least "three-peat" had the ring of originality, but ... that's hot?
"The hard part is when people say, `Wait. That's just a common term!'" said intellectual property lawyer Gary A. Hecker. He helped the Hollywood production company JMBP Inc. secure rights to "You're fired," but he has no professional interest in "That's hot."
"Well, Apple is a common term, too, when used generically. But it's protected in the trademark sense for anything computer-related," he said.
"Paris Hilton's trademark for `That's hot' doesn't prevent the public from saying `That's hot' when you touch your finger to the stove. ... But it could be an issue if someone uses that slogan for specific goods and services for commercial purposes."
Hilton in July 2004 applied for the trademark as the term pertains to clothing. In another filing under review by examining attorneys in the patent office, Hilton seeks to use the same term for electronic equipment and video games. Trademark protection lasts 10 years, when the owner of the mark must renew it.
"The more generic a term is, the less protection you're likely to get when others want to use it. You may not even get the trademark," said Bruce Stutsman, a Florida lawyer.
He helped a hot-wings franchise secure a 2004 trademark on "Whew!! That's hot."
"Now, if Paris starts selling wings," he added, "we will vigorously defend our rights to that mark."
Hallmark said in a statement that some of the greeting cards in its new humor line "are parodies of today's most popular celebrities and politicians. These cards take a satirical look at news and gossip surrounding these public figures, including Paris Hilton, and we do not believe Hallmark has violated any of Ms. Hilton's rights."
Now, that's cool.
Or can you say that? The patent office last year granted a trademark on "Now, that's cool" to an ice cream company.
(c) 2007, The Kansas City Star.
Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kansascity.com.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.