Monday

Who files the most lawsuits?

A lot of folks seem to think that most of the lawsuits in the US are filed by professional litigators who cruise the drive thru at McDonalds looking for that perfectly hot cup of coffee that will make them rich. Well, not only is the original McDonalds coffee cup lawsuit rumor just a load of hooey (that's technical talk for baloney), but do you know who actually files most of the lawsuits in the US? Big business.

That's right. Study after study has shown that when you look at who the person is that files lawsuits in the US federal court system, most of the time it isn't a real person at all. It's usually just one corporation suing another.

In fact, pretty often it is actually one big business suing a small upstart business, trying to run them out of business. Here's an example.

Enter Jimmy Winklemann. He's in college at University of Missouri. Like any kid in college, he doesn't have a lot of money. Like any parents of a college kid, his parents also are looking at supporting their son through his college years. Even in a good economy that wouldn't be easy.

Meanwhile, Jimmy sees lots of probably-well-off school mates wearing the trendy North Face clothing line. So he decides to take a bit of an "anti" North Face point of view and he starts up his own little clothing business and calls it The South Butt, a parody of The North Face in every way.

You have to admit that it's a clever play on words, but other than that, the two couldn't be more different.

North Face sells athletic apparel and gear for runners and rock climbers and the like. Jocks and wanna-be jocks. South Butt, on the other hand, isn't after the jock crowd at all. They sell jackets and t-shirts, etc.

North Face's motto is "never stop exploring" while South Butt proudly proclaims "Never stop relaxing." Jimmy doesn't want to climb rocks or race on the track. Heck, he's just a college freshman trying to get by and scrape up enough money for college books and tuition next year.

So billion dollar North Face hears about Jimmy and his South Butt and what do they do? They sue.

North Face claims trademark infringement "and dilution" and claims that North Face and South Butt are so similar as to possibly cause "consumer confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of particular promotions and services that could dilute or tarnish the distinctive quality of the famous and distinctive marks." Some might think that's 3-piece lawyer suit talk for "we want to make all the money just for us." They might be right.

Sounds to us like someone just wants to run the little guy out of business because he is making fun of the big guy and maybe making a buck or two in the process.

To help clear up any confusion, Jimmy even put on his web site, http://www.thesouthbutt.com/, a disclaimer that explains that "We are not in any fashion related to nor do we want to be confused with the North Face Apparel Corp. or its products sold under 'the North Face' brand. If you are unable to discern the difference between a face and a butt, we encourage you to buy North Face products." We like that part, especially.

And just who is The North Face? It's a billion dollar clothing conglomerate called VF Corporation which owns 25 big name clothing brands, Wrangler, Lee, Nautica, and more. They loudly, if not proudly, proclaim themselves to be the world's largest apparel manufacturing company and "a seven billion dollar plus powerhouse," according to South Butt's website notice about the lawsuit. And Jimmy? Well, he made about $5,000 last year off his t-shirts, etc.

So little Jimmy talks to his dad, who talks to a friendly lawyer, and they decide to fight back.

Folks, this ain't no McDonalds coffee fight either. The blogs are churning out commentary and North Face is getting the mud slung in its own direction as a result. While the Judge so far is somber like all federal judges seem to be when they write something, the levity of the case can't help but (pun intended) be sticking out there in everyone's face (north or otherwise).

According to the DuetsBlog, North Face has what looks like a valid legal argument about trademark "dilution." But we think that by the time it's over with, North Face will regret all the bad publicity far more than what little they get from trying to run Jimmy out of business, even if they win.

Sometimes a little humor may be better than a lot of lawsuit. Too bad the suits at North Face can't figure that out.

Burdge Law Office
www.OhioConsumerLaw.com
Helping consumers every day.