Tag: The Oatmeal

  • The Oatmeal Sued Again – This Time for Trademark Infringement

    One of the Greeting Cards available on TheOatmeal.com

    I suspect he has a harder fight on his hands this time around.

    Ars Technica released a story this week that The Oatmeal (aka Matt Inman) is going back to court, courtesy of Oatmeal Studios. Oatmeal Studios is a greeting card company that’s suing the artist for trademark infringement because he’s selling greeting cards on The Oatmeal website.

    Matt became more infamous than ever with his legal issues related to FunnyJunk earlier this year. I think that was a pretty easy fight for him to win, but this time he has a more formidable opposition.

    According to the USPTO, Oatmeal Studios has been selling greeting cards under this brand since 1978 – that means they’ve been selling cards since before Matt was born. In 2004, the company registered the trademark “Oatmeal Studios” for use on “greeting cards, gift cards, occasion cards, paper party decorations, writing pads, note pads, and memo pads.” That means no one can start using “Oatmeal Studios” as a trademark on these or similar products anywhere in the United States after the mark was registered.

    Matt has had his site since at least 2009 according to the WhoIs records. He started drawing comics and now he also sells greetings cards, prints, mugs, t-shirts, stickers and posters on his site.

    I suspect Oatmeal Studios thinks “The Oatmeal” is too similar to “Oatmeal Studios” so they want to shut down at least the greeting card arm of his operation. Since they have the federally registered trademark, they might succeed, but I think there’s a strong argument that the marks are different enough and the products are different enough that Matt could be allowed to sell his cards because no consumer would ever confuse the two products.

    Let’s take a brief look at the factors the court looks at when deciding the likelihood of confusion.

    1. Strength of the Plaintiff’s Mark: “Oatmeal Studios” for a greeting card company sounds like an arbitrary mark to me, which is a pretty strong mark. This makes it more likely that consumers will be confused about the difference between “Oatmeal Studios” and “The Oatmeal.”
    2. Degree of Similarity between the Marks: The marks are pretty similar. One has an added “the” and the other has “studios.” I think the fact that Matt doesn’t have “studios” or something along those lines as part of his name helps him. “Oatmeal” describes the company on one side but “Oatmeal” describes him as a person on the other.
    3. Proximity of Products: Matt sells his cards on his site. Oatmeal Studio’s cards look like the cards I see in Walgreens and stationary stores. The fact they’re not sold in the same places helps Matt’s case.
    4. Likelihood that the Plaintiff will Bridge the Gap: These companies both sell greeting cards, but I doubt Oatmeal Studios will be selling signed prints, posters, mugs, t-shirts, or stickers anytime soon.
    5. Evidence of Actual Confusion: Has anyone been confused about the differences between Oatmeal Studios and The Oatmeal? I doubt it.
    6. Defendant’s Good Faith in Adopting the Mark: If memory serves, Matt’s alter ego The Oatmeal came from his activities in the gaming world. It had nothing to do with Oatmeal Studios. I suspect when he started his site to share his comics that he wasn’t thinking of creating a line of greeting cards.
    7. Quality of the Defendant’s Product: Go check out Oatmeal Studios’ website. I see no similarities between these cards and The Oatmeal’s greeting cards except that they’re both on paper. I think they’re of equal quality as paper products, but when you look at the quality and characteristics of the artwork, they’re not similar at all.
    8. Sophistication of the Buyer: People who buy The Oatmeal products specifically seek out Matt’s work. They will not even thing for a second that Oatmeal Studios is his work.

    I think there’s a good chance that Matt can argue that there is no likelihood of consumer confusion when it comes to these two brands. The names may be similar, but I think the products are different enough that Matt has a good shot at winning. I hope this case also inspires Matt to register his trademark for his products to avoid similar problems in the future.

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  • I <3 The Oatmeal

    Oatmeal Porridge by Alpha
    Oatmeal Porridge by Alpha

    I want to use this week’s post to voice my support for Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal. He draws comics that make me laugh so hard, especially the ones about real life situations. I can always count on him to lift my mood. I saw him at his book signing at Changing Hands in Tempe, and he’s the sweetest guy.

    Matthew Inman by Gary BarberFor those of you who haven’t been following the story, Oatmeal was recently threatened with a lawsuit if he didn’t pay FunnyJunk LLC $20,000. FunnyJunk is a website where people can post humorous photos and it apparently it was hosting hundreds of Oatmeal’s images in violation of his copyright. Oatmeal wrote a post about what was happening and accused FunnyJunk of making $100,000+ off his work. FunnyJunk claimed this was a false accusation of willful copyright infringement.

    Some people might be been scared by the threat of a lawsuit, but not Oatmeal. He published an awesome blog where he refused to pay the $20,000 and instead announced that he’d try to raise $20,000 for charity in a venture called Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad. Oatmeal ended up raising over $200,000 for charity and was sued by FunnyJunk’s lawyer in the process. Hopefully that case will be dismissed soon and Oatmeal can disseminate the funds.

    As a lawyer I initially cringed when I saw Oatmeal’s plan, but I was relieved when I saw that he has an awesome lawyer who appears to be doing the appropriate lawyer things on Oatmeal’s behalf. I think Oatmeal’s grace and strength in the face of adversity is admirable. I think if you feel you’re being unjustly accused of a wrongdoing, you should stand up for yourself and not do whatever you have to do to make the threat go away. I applaud Oatmeal for addressing this situation very publicly and showing his opposition a lot of respect.  When Oatmeal’s fans starting calling FunnyJunk’s lawyer, he told them to stop and to donate to Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad if they wanted to help.

    Much love to you Oatmeal! Thank you for demonstrating the power and influence you can use for good when you build a solid following by doing excellent work. Your hilarious comics and charming personality made you what you are and I’m so glad you didn’t back down from this fight. I hope your legal troubles are resolved soon.