A satirical cease and desist letter sent by the American Mustache Institute (AMI) to the Boston Red Sox’s baseball team – which currently feature a high number of facial hair-sporting members – has gone viral after several major news agencies ran the story. While the agencies all appear to get the joke, comments made by members of the public suggest some believe otherwise – is trademark law really viewed that cynically?

The letter stated that the Boston Red Sox’s “marketing of beardism violates the expressed federal trademark of AMI’s ownership of the Sexually Dynamic Mustached American Lifestyle, and in particular, our legal right to approve via ‘expressed written consent’ of any use of said beardism or mustacheularity in marketing the Red Sox’s winning ways or merchandise.”

As reported by Legal Cheek earlier this week, one would have thought the letter would be instantly recognised as anything but genuine simply by looking at the name of the author, AMI general counsel “Jean Velue Doppelganger III”, let alone the reference to their external law, “Dewey, Ahmadinejad & Houssein”. In addition, the AMI’s general policy pledges include: “Never own a cat or watch ‘Sex And The City'” and “Applaud any Mustached American as they walk past me on the street”.

Surveying the comments posted online and via Twitter by readers, it is clear that the majority are in on the joke – but there are those who have questioned the AMI’s tactics, suggested that there was a low likelihood of confusion and wondered what has happened to America as the land of the free. So a spoof that has caught a few people out or a worrying indicator of how quickly members of the public can kick back over perceived trademark over-reach?

WTR has written at length about anti-IP sentiment and rising hostility towards IP rights and their owners, fuelled by stories of trademark bullies and big corporations seeking to restrict online freedom. In 2012 theUnited States Chamber of Commerce aimed to convince decision-makers and the public at large of the value of IP in economic and social terms, and dissipate most misconceptions through their campaign “IP Delivers”. There is still way to go to convince the public of the importance of IP and the role it plays in the worldwide economy. Hopefully ‘Mustachegate’ is not an indicator of the low regard that members of the public have for trademark law. After all, with Movember now underway, there is facial hair to be grown.

This blog was first published in World Trademark Review on 1 November 2013

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