Carnegie Mellon University
24 September 2001
Business Assault on speech
University research outfit becomes latest target in
Entrepreneur Magazine's four-year trademark attack
by Vivek Sridharan
Is it possible to own a word in the English language? Entrepreneur
Media, Inc. (publisher of Entrepreneur Magazine) has been
attempting to do just that, by stretching the boundaries
of trademark law and laying sole claim to the word "entrepreneur." Entrepreneur
Magazine claims that they alone have the right to use "entrepreneur" in
the field of printed publications, and that they have been
using the mark for over 20 years. What's more is that they
have been successful in their attacks, forcing dozens of
companies and publications to change their names. However,
at least one company is fighting back.
Scott Smith, CEO of BizStarz (formerly EntrepreneurPR),
which provides media exposure for entrepreneurs, is currently
appealing the forced name change of his company. Smith said, "A
very significant part of Entrepreneur Magazine's legal strategy
is, 'It doesn't matter what you think, or if we are even
wrong, you cannot afford the legal cost to fight us'."
Therefore, Smith is on a mission backed by nearly 300,000
small business owners to save the word "entrepreneur." Smith
was no stranger to Entrepreneur Magazine before this, as
the magazine was one of his most important media contacts
for his clients. "In fact, they even featured me, EntrepreneurPR
and Entrepreneur Illustrated in one of their magazines while
at the same time suing me for using the word 'entrepreneur'
as part of my company name, domain name, and book name," Smith
Entrepreneur Magazine's vast efforts have not been lost
on Carnegie Mellon, as a few weeks ago, the Graduate School
of Industrial Administration's Donald H. Jones Center for
Entrepreneurship received a "cease and desist" order
to stop publishing their newsletter, "The Entrepreneur," under
its current name. S. Thomas Emerson, Director of the Donald
H. Jones Center, was more surprised than anything else, commenting, "It
appears that we are within the scope of the aggressive efforts
of Entrepreneur Magazine to monopolize the word 'entrepreneur.'" As
to why they are attacking the DHJ Center's alumni newsletter,
Henry Bissell, lawyer for Entrepreneur Media, writes, "We
consider... 'The Entrepreneur' to be a flagrant infringement
of our client's trademark rights. The marks are identical
and the goods fall in the same class: publications. Likelihood
of confusion is inescapable." To Bissell, entrepreneurs
would be confused between Entrepreneur Magazine, a 20-year-old
institution, and 'The Entrepreneur,' a CMU alumni newsletter
consisting of six pages in two colors.
Entrepreneur Magazine has taken the position that they are
simply defending their trademark. Peter Shea, CEO of Entrepreneur
Media, claims "It's not that we are suing everybody
for using the word. Time is in the dictionary, but Time Magazine
would sue anybody who started publishing Time Illustrated."
Smith doesn't buy that argument, asking, "Can you imagine
Golf Magazine suing other golf magazines like Golf Digest
or Golf Illustrated just for using the word 'golf'?"
As strange as that seems, what confounds most people is
that they are suing their own target audience. Entrepreneur
Magazine is read mainly by small business owners, academics,
and entrepreneurs themselves. Just as they sued Smith after
featuring him in their magazine, they have also gone after
Stardock, a company publishing a computer game called "Entrepreneur" after
featuring them in a 1997 issue.
"Of course, their legal strategy has been very upsetting
to entrepreneurs worldwide, and has tremendously damaged
Entrepreneur Magazine's reputation," says Smith, "What's
their ultimate goal, stopping everyone else from using the
word 'entrepreneur,' the only word that properly describes
the same market they profess to support?"
Walt DeForest, University Legal Counsel, agrees. "I
think that there may be ways to try to persuade them that
we're not acting in an improper manner," he said. When
asked why Entrepreneur Magazine is going after CMU, he said, "I
believe that the holder of a mark will try to assure that
others don't use it so that they don't lose it." At
the same time, he firmly thinks that readers will not be
confused between CMU's newsletter and Entrepreneur Magazine.
CMU currently has three options: Comply by changing the
title, join Smith in fighting against Entrepreneur Media,
or try to work out some compromise with the company. DeForest
will leave the decision to Emerson and the DHJ center. "The
only real issue is whether the Don Jones Center should go
through with the burden of litigation."
Interesting to note is the unequivocal support Smith has
received from the Institute of Entrepreneurial Excellence,
part of the University of Pittsburgh's Katz School of Business.
"Entrepreneur" is a word with no real synonyms,
making it very hard to convey the same meaning without actually
using the word in a publication. In fact, over 250 book titles
begin with "entrepreneur" as well as many domain
names and other publications. Within the next week, CMU will
decide on its course of action. Emerson sounds like a man
ready for battle. "We could be more restrictive in our
name: The CMU Entrepreneur," he says, "but to exclude
us from the right to the use of the word 'entrepreneur' in
our view seems to be excessive. 'Entrepreneur' is part of
the English language."