Maybe Don't Trademark Your Cat?

I have lots of opinions about things. Here are some of them.

Joel Thomas Zimmerman is better known as masked electronic musician Deadmau5 from Toronto, Canada. He's been nominated for six Grammy Awards, collaborated with a huge amount of other producers/DJs, been involved in a large amount of controversial litigation (like this shit), and is currently one of the highest paid electronic musicians/producers in the entire world. In 2010, Zimmerman adopted a cat and named it Professor Meowingtons, and the cat has since had a very public presence on social media with a verified Instagram account and thousands of followers. Neat. It is worth noting, however, that the @meowingtons Instagram account has not been used for almost an entire year. 

In 2014, entrepreneur Emma Bassiri opened an e-commerce storefront called Meowingtons (because, really, how many different words can you incorporate 'meow' into?) and began selling cat-themed clothing, accessories, and decor for homes around the world. After graduating from Toronto’s OCAD University, she clearly put her entrepreneurship skills to work immediately by looking to her passions (and also to the immense amounts of market research she conducted). She filed Meowingtons LLC after seeing it was available for use on all fronts, and trademarked the e-commerce store a couple months later.

As the online storefront began gaining traction, Zimmerman started trying to combat the trademark by filing his own trademarks (which were all shut down) for Prof. Meowington, among others, in the United States, Canada, and the European Union before actually contacting Bassiri about anything. He finally reached out to her in August of 2016, but in December of 2016, Zimmerman filed a trademark petition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to attempt to cancel Bassiri’s trademark for her storefront. Her legal team came back and responded by filing a lawsuit against Deadmau5 on March 13, 2017. Bassiri's primary place of residence is now in Florida, and that is where litigation will take place.

I just honestly think this whole thing is ridiculous. It's ridiculous that a self-motivated and successful entrepreneur is having to drain money into this suit because someone (who is wildly successful and wealthy and probably has other things to worry about) wants to defend the integrity of his cat. He could have approached her and been like, "Wow, cool name! Let's do a collaboration line and split the profits!" But nah. The lawsuit is claiming both trademark infringement and unfair competition. This is mainly founded on Zimmerman’s claims that Bassiri chose the name solely based on his music, which she has completely denied. She also made a statement that these claims are damaging not only to her personal reputation, but to her business. Deadmau5 and his team have made a huge public emphasis about how they initially tried to handle things around this ordeal very amicably and generously, but provides no detail on what that actually means. Bassiri’s team responded saying they have never witnessed someone trying or succeeding in trademarking their pet’s name, especially without any kind of commerce whatsoever. Again, they also cited in the official complaint that the defendant never actually tried to communicate any issues until August 17th, 2016. I honestly think my favorite part of all Bassiri's statements is that their entire team refers to Zimmerman as the mouse. 

According to the official complaint, it looks like Deadmau5’s original United States trademark filing was suspended on January 5th, 2017 for unfair competition and for encompassing an unnecessarily large amount of goods, which is mostly likely where this drama/negative media escalated. The trademark has also been refused to Zimmerman upon filing in Canada. Through filing the trademark at all, the defendant alleges that they participated in interstate commerce under this name, which seems ridiculous without an actual product line established. The plaintiff claims that Zimmerman sought to capitalize on her trademark upon discovery, and primarily by using a negative social media campaign.

I see a lot of parallels between this case and when Beyonce tried to trademark her daughter Blue Ivy’s name in 2012. Beyonce did this to compete with a wedding planner in Boston going by the same name, Blue Ivy, but a judge ultimately ruled that the couple could not trademark their daughter’s name for a product line of baby products without actually having the line of products. While the wedding planner can continue using the name, she is only allowed to use it for wedding-related business endeavors, and Beyonce can use it for other potential business endeavors. The power couple announced last month that they will be launching a line of products under Blue Ivy Carter, using the full name instead of limited power under just Blue Ivy. There are differences in the cases since the wedding planner using the name Blue Ivy trademarked the name a couple years before the child was even born, but again, I will be interested to see if Deadmau5 tries to launch products or something like a publishing company under his cat’s name in order to strengthen his reasoning for trademarking his cat’s name.

All comedy aside, I think this is a really interesting case. I would hope that Zimmerman (or at least someone on his massive team) knows that there is not much possibility of him winning a trademark case over the name of his cat with no affiliated products or business. With that being said, while being involved in a lawsuit is probably incredibly irritating and time consuming for a business owner, Bassiri hopefully realizes that this is an incredible chance for her to capitalize on more traffic to her website by people seeing the lawsuit online. I also think her active presence online will aid her in this case, not that Deadmau5 has much of a case anyway. A lot of the justification for his cat’s trademark is Professor Meowington’s online presence, which has not been active in almost a year. This clearly does not help Zimmerman’s case at all.

After reading her blog posts on the Meowingtons storefront, I think Bassiri is handling the whole ordeal gracefully by focusing on what is important to her and by encouraging people to donate to the Humane Society if they visit her site just for that reason. I do think this lawsuit will ultimately reflect very poorly on Zimmerman because Bassiri’s company supports the Humane Society so heavily both monetarily and emotionally. Essentially, Zimmerman threatening to “litigate out of existence” a woman who financially supports the Humane Society in a huge way, based on competition for the name of his cat whom he adopted from the Human Society. The irony is unreal, and I think the best scenario in this case would be a settlement that directly benefits the Human Society.

I highly suggest making time to skim through Bassiri's complaint here and Zimmerman's trademark petition here, because its' honestly hilarious to think that a cat caused all of this to happen.