– Anjali Shankar, Attorney –
Amy Brooks, from Rochester, Minnesota, has been selling handcrafted soaps that are designed to reduce skin irritation for cancer patients going through therapy. Brooks herself is a cancer survivor and has sold this product for ten years under the name Bubbles by Brooks.
About a year ago, Brooks became subject to a trademark infringement lawsuit by Brooks Brothers, the Connecticut-based clothier, which has fragrances and “cleansing products.” Brooks Brothers demanded that Bubbles by Brooks withdraw its trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, stating that while “Brooks” was Amy’s surname, it did not “give [her] the right to infringe on the Brooks Brothers trademark or otherwise compete with Brooks Brothers.”
Brooks did an interview about a year ago, when she acknowledged that her business had grown over the past ten years mostly due to word of mouth. She noted that if she changed the name of Bubbles by Brooks, she would have to change everything, including her custom paraphernalia and website. Brooks thus became entangled in a practice sometimes called trademark bullying, wherein a small business is faced with a hefty lawsuit against a much larger corporation.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office did a study in 2011 and noted that the costs of legal representation greatly impact the ability of small businesses to fight trademark challenges. The study also found that there were enough mechanisms in place to punish or deter abusive tactics, however.
Just yesterday, it was reported that after a year of legal battling, Brooks Brothers had dropped its trademark infringement action against Bubbles by Brooks. Brooks had received free legal assistance from a team of intellectual property lawyers from a Minneapolis-based law firm. The dispute was handled in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While the number of smaller businesses prevailing in these types of disputes is on the rise, the smaller businesses tend to prevail in just over five percent of the time. Brooks was grateful for the representation and noted that business has been good.