There are plenty of jokes between the covers of the Harvard Lampoon, but the world’s oldest humor magazine considers trademark infringement no laughing matter. The normally irreverent magazine demanded that the Georgetown Lampoon “cease and desist” using the Lampoon name, threatening to sue the Georgetown satirical publication should it not comply. To avoid the lawsuit, the Georgetown Lampoon, an on-line humor magazine not officially affiliated with Georgetown University , has changed its name to the Georgetown Heckler.
While the Heckler’s founder, Justin Droms (COL ’03), said that talking with the Harvard Lampoon’s lawyer was initially nerve-wracking, correspondence became more genial once the lawyers learned that the Heckler was not about to fight them.
“Since the Heckler’s assets total about $3 . We didn’t really have any other option but to comply,” Droms said.
Droms said that it was unfair for the Harvard Lampoon to assert ownership over a word, pointing out that many corporations make use of the same words in their name, without being subject to trademark infringement.
“The Washington Post can’t sue the New York Post,” he said.
The decision to adopt the Georgetown Heckler as the publication’s new name was reached after submissions by the entire staff, and was suggested by Andrew Leahy ( COL ’05). Droms is optimistic about the name change, claiming that the new name is “actually much more fitting.”
Legally, the Harvard Lampoon said it was justified in suing the Georgetown Lampoon for trademark infringement. The Harvard Lampoon, created in 1876, obtained a trademark of the word “lampoon” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. According to Harvard Lampoon lawyer Tyler Chapman, the criteria for the Harvard Lampoon to acquire the trademark was that the use of the word Lampoon in their title had given the word a secondary meaning.
“When people say `lampoon,’ they think not only of the English word, but also of either the Harvard Lampoon or our sole licensee, National Lampoon,” he said.
No entity has ever been able to convince the United States Patent and Trademark Office that the word “Post” fulfills this requirement – probably because so many newspapers were started at roughly the same time using that name, Chapman argued.
After the Harvard Lampoon successfully trademarked its name, it is obligated to regulate the use of its trademark, according to Chapman. If the Harvard Lampoon failed to challenge publications like the Georgetown Lampoon, it would risk a court finding that the trademark had been abandoned.
“While it may seem . heavy-handed for large or established corporations to come down on start-up entities that use their names, it is really a requirement of owning a trademark,” Chapman said.
The Heckler’s members remain excited about the coming year. The publication, entering its third year at Georgetown , earned the loyalty of many students last year with an article which argued that wearing the collar of one’s polo shirt down was “for poor people.”
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.