If you’ve been paying attention to the trademark front, you’ve probably heard that Oprah and Mutual of Omaha recently settled a small skirmish over the use of "aha moment." The skirmish was apparently ignited by Mutual of Omaha’s attempt to register "Official Sponsor of the Aha Moment." According to Oprah, she made the phrase famous when using it on her show to describe "flashes of understanding" she has with the guests on her show.
My first question, directed to Ms. Winfrey: Are you kidding me? While I’m no etymologist, I’m willing to bet that "aha moment" originated before Oprah let it slip during one of her shows, which didn’t start airing until 1986. As we all know (or should know), Aha was already pretty popular by no later than 1985. (FYI – That last hyperlink was tongue-in-cheek.)
My second, more serious question is directed to both: How did you value your decision to commit resources to this mark which you are both using in an admittedly descriptive sense? (For you non-trademark attorneys out there, "descriptive" marks cannot function as trademarks unless and until they acquire something called "secondary meaning," which generally requires five years of exclusive use). Given that this dispute was relatively short-lived, as far as lawsuits go, I’m guessing both sides felt it better to walk away from this before it got out of hand.
In any event, if I had to pick a side in this dispute, I’d go with Mutual of Omaha. When compared to Oprah, their use of "Aha moment" seemed much more like a legitimate branding strategy and much less like a haphazard effort to stockpile words and phrases. "Official Sponsor of the Aha Moment" is cleverly suggestive of them being there to help when you reach a pivotal point in your life. They also apparently went on a promotional tour with the phrase. God forbid I draw the ire of the Oprah machine, but it looks like all she did was lazily tag some interview snippets.