junio 29, 2005

'Rebel billionaire' sues small companies using word 'Virgin' -- and often wins. But is it right?

Imagine being in a position where a huge multinational conglomerate trademarked the word "Red", "Fanatic", "Fringe", "Guide", "Custom", "Funky", "Stuff", "Creative" - or any other common word in the dictionary - and then filed suit against you for your use of that word in your domain name or business name.

Virgin Threads (virginthreads.com), based in New York City, has been promoting emerging talent since 2002. It is one of the few comprehensive outlets where an independent fashion designer has to sell their goods, and a source of inspirations for up-and-coming designers. Virgin Threads bring to the public unique items that are hard or impossible to find otherwise.

Virgin Threads is being sued by Virgin Enterprises Limited (Virgin Megastores, etc) for the use of the word "virgin" in its website. A copy of the complaint is online here: http://www.heratyhall.com/virginthreads.pdf. So Collective is the registrant of virginthreads.com. So Collective and Virgin Threads are operated by Jason Yang.

Jason Yang has been helping the emerging fashion community since 1999 through various companies such as So Collective, Virgin Threads, and SoWear. Virgin Threads is his sole source of income, it is his home business.

Virgin Enterprises has filed suit against quite literally hundreds of websites for using the word "virgin" in conjunction with another word, like "Virgin Cigars", "Virgin Mortgage", "Virgin Travel" or, in this case, "Virgin Threads." As you can imagine, most of the targeted defendants have either defaulted or have been intimidated into transferring their URL to Virgin.

An article on CNN/Money's website today explores this issue. See "Branson trademark suit sparks debate - 'Rebel billionaire' sues small companies using word 'Virgin' -- and often wins. But is it right?" by Amanda Cantrell.

During a status conference with the judge in this case on June 22, 2005, Virgin Enterprises's counsel, Darcy Goddard of Fried Frank, cited a 2nd Circuit case and asserted to Judge Koeltl that it gave Virgin Enterprises broad latitude to pursue claims for dilution, cybersquatting, and trademark infringement against anyone using the "virgin word string", which Virgin's counsel defines as "domain names containing a "word string" including "virgin"... domain names that consist in whole or in part of the word "virgin".

In trademark law, a trademark that has become "genericized" - like aspirin, granola, or frisbee - loses most if not all of its exclusive rights. What Virgin is trying to do is take a generic word - "virgin" - an maintain that it has exclusivity over it.

Virgin Threads need your help. If you know any attorneys who would be willing to work on this matter pro bono or any publicists or journalists who would be willing to help publicize this matter, please contact Virgin Threads at virginthreads@heratyhall.com.

For more information about this case and how you can help with letters and donations, please go to: virginthreads.com

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