Thursday, October 28, 2010

Who owns the Tea Party? The intersection of politics and intellectual property law

The Tea Party defies easy definition. More than an interest group but less than a third party, the grass-roots movement seems united more by anti-establishment fervor and voter outrage than a shared ideology. Yet the discontent voiced by Tea Party members has transformed politics as usual, galvanizing a movement perhaps powerful enough to determine whether the Democrats or the Republicans control Congress come Election Day. Unfortunately, victory often breeds discontent in fledgling political movements as leadership splinters, factions emerge and competing Tea Party groups have emerged at the local, state and federal levels seeking to exploit the movement’s momentum. Disputes over intellectual property have emerged as a key issue moving these clashes of ego and political beliefs into court. Just like business start-ups, Tea Party organizations often have no tangible assets but their intellectual property, including ownership of the Tea Party name itself. History is repeating itself with a variety of groups laying claim to the Tea Party name. Just as rival factions in 1992 vied to control the UNITED WE STAND AMERICA mark associated with the Ross Perot campaign, about 20 groups have filed trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2009 seeking to register marks that include the phrase Tea Party. Although many of these applications are for consumer goods like clothing, the filings illustrate the overwhelming interest in the movement and efforts to capitalize on the meaning of the Tea Party mark...more

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