I’ll avoid the rampant irony of taking a trademark around Jesus’ name and/or using The Lord’s name in vain for the sake of financial gain. (Isn’t there something about that in the Bible?)
Television/movie star and man-of-many-faces Tyler Perry successfully snatched away the mark: "WHAT WOULD JESUS DO" from Reality TV "star" Kimberly Kearney ("Poprah" on I Want to Work for Diddy). Perry convinced the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) that Kearney never used the Mark and/or abandoned the Mark.
According to the TTAB decision, Perry attempted to register the Mark for "’Entertainment services in the nature of an on-going reality based television program,’ in International Class 41" (Reg. No. 3748123). Perry then successfully convinced the Board that Kearney did not use the Mark in connection with any television program. Three big lessons from all of this …
Lesson #1: Always Answer the Requests for Admission.
Kearney did not respond to Perry’s Requests for Admission. Accordingly, TTAB found that Kearney admitted to everything that Perry requested and that such facts she "admitted" are now "conclusively established." (Fed. R. Civ. P. 36). Even though she denied those facts in her Answer, her failure to respond to the Requests for Admission trump those denials. YIKES. Let that be a lesson to those of you in litigation – Respond to your Requests for Admission.
Lesson #2: Mind Your Meetings
Here, Kearney alleged that she attempted to start a reality show by pitching it to … coincidentally enough … Tyler Perry Studios.
We see this all the time in trademark law. Here’s what probably happened: Kearney likely walked in to TP Studios, gave them an idea for a ridiculous reality show, didn’t really have much protectable IP, but did have a federal trademark on a name for said ridiculous show. Then, the TP Studio executives likely said "no thank you" to Kearny, then decided that she still had a neat name for a show. Tyler Perry studios, realizing Kearny would likely never make anything of the Mark, filed to cancel it and take it away from her. What should you remember from this? Mind Your Meetings!
If you’re going to meet with someone who might steal your intellectual property, make sure you get in a Non-Disclosure Agreement at the very least. Here – it didn’t look like Kearny had much in terms of trademark rights, but this is still very indicative of how many large companies operate. Many have been known to pretend to be disinterested in your ideas only to misappropriate them later. Worse yet, sometimes they will string you along for several weeks/months/years of negotiations to get more information and then tell you they aren’t interested.
Lesson# 3 Actual Use Still Counts
A federally-registered trademark is presumed valid, but that does not make it invincible. In other words, "use it or lose it." If Kearny had actually made use of this trademark in some way relating to producing a show around it, she could have survived cancellation. At the very least, she could have gotten this issue in front of a judge or jury and slowed down the process. The press around the dispute very well could have gotten her a TV deal with someone other than TP Studios. What might be interesting later is if Tyler Perry poaches some of Kearney’s substantive material around her show (assuming she actually has some).