Seth Godin

It’s not good marketing and I’m pretty sure it’s not good law, either.

It seems as though Entrepreneur magazine (who should know better) is working with Latham and Watkins (who should certainly know better) to persist in their relentless efforts to bully entrepreneurs to stop using the word ‘entrepreneur’.

And yes, it’s a word.

Not a fanciful or inherently distinctive trademark, a word. Almost 800,000,000 matches in Google.

One of the only words available to describe a person who builds an enterprise bigger than herself, often using outside resources.

Without that word, it’s hard to describe the work.

Poignantly, it’s interesting to see that they’re not going after people with a ton of resources. If Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Showtime started going after billionaires for using the word ‘Billions’, I’d call it a fair fight. A dumb fight, but a fair one.

But deep in the bowels of the Latham offices in San Diego (which, fortunately, hasn’t been sued by the producers of Anchorman for trademark infringement) there are young lawyers, early in their career, sending nasty letters to entrepreneurs (there’s that word again) like Jen Lehner. You can see her work here: jenlehner.com/blog

Apparently, the powers that be decided that her podcast called “Front Row Entrepreneur” somehow infringed on a magazine that hit its peak in 2013. How?

“Front Row” modifies the noun. The trademark is the modifier, not the noun. Front Row™ is a trademark. Entrepreneur is simply a word.

With great cost and hassle, fledgling entrepreneurs (there’s that word again) who have finally gotten their business off the ground now have to dig in to either fight a huge law firm and their misguided but well-funded lawyers–or spend the money to change what they already built.

Who, exactly, does this help?

By engaging in this behavior, Entrepreneur might think it is building a strong trademark; instead, it is throwing away the very purpose of any trademark: To be a symbol of goodwill within a community. Amongst entrepreneurs, it is simply becoming a hated one.

Better, I think, to spend the time and the money building something that entrepreneurs actually like and respect.

  • stevebaird

    Seth, thanks for sharing your perspective. To your point about those who tend to pick fights against smaller targets, I’ve always wondered how aggressively enforced rights in the word “entrepreneur” could exist when Big Four global accounting firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) has owned a federal registration for the mark “ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR” for “CONDUCTING AN ANNUAL AWARDS CEREMONY COMMEMORATING THE RECIPIENT’S EXCEPTIONAL ACHIEVEMENT IN ENTREPRENEURIAL BUSINESS ACHIEVEMENTS” since March 13, 1990, claiming first use at least as early as February 1986, see this USPTO link: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=73749392&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch
    I’m thinking entrepreneurs appreciate and respect EY for this branded platform they’ve built.

    • Indeed. And sometimes those entrepreneurs develop into big firms… and hire… EY.

    • What? EY is also a “trademark bully.” They’re also using their deep pockets and high-priced attorneys to try and monopolize a generic phrase that is used by tons of other organizations, and have been for decades.

    • Diane Foisy

      Thank you for speaking out Seth Godin!! Excellent blog post!!

  • I love watching moronic people fight over moronic things, its like being ringside for a dozen pigs in mud looking for an elusive truffle. It lights up a smile in my mind.

    A magazine naming itself after its audience and then legally bullying that audience, is as moronic as it gets. Perhaps, in the spirit of a gritty, hard-working, dedicated entrepreneur (their former readers) they should rebrand themselves to a more protectable and memorable name.

    Perhaps, instead of paying lawyers they should pay a creative, hard working, gritty entrepreneur to help them find a better name for their magazine (not saying that lawyers are not also hard working or creative, though this L & W crew could use a refresher course on both subjects).

    This might also be what people do when the decline in readership gets so steep primal fear kicks in and they start blaming, fighting and sending out cries for help. For those of you still at Entrepreneur Magazine, if this is a sad cry for help, we’re here for you, just ask, we’ll come rebrand you to a more interesting, engaging, memorable and worthy publication.

  • YES! Thank you for speaking out about this!

  • Eric Hunley

    This is very similar to the 90s and 00s when Monster Cables went after everyone for using the word “Monster.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Cable#Trademark_disputes

  • Stephanie Tate Hynds

    Really? This is how they spend their time and resources? Absolutely preposterous. I’m now re-thinking my subscription to Entrepreneur Magazine. Thanks for calling them out!

  • Åsa Rydhard

    I can only agree that this behaviour is bad branding. It would have been far better if they helped small entrepreneurs.
    And the idea to own a common word is just stupid .

  • Colleen Kochannek

    Seth – is this even true (I know it is because I know Jen and The Front Row Entrepreneur? But, it just seems so incredibly sleazy of Entrepreneur Magazine to be picking on, of all people, entrepreneurs. Mind blown.

    • JiffyKat

      Hi Colleen. Jen’s situation is very true. Are you on her email list? Perhaps you haven’t receive her email today.

    • Maelisa Hall PsyD

      Yup, I had a friend deal with this issue, as well. It’s sick. Not to mention bad branding and completely against whatever mission they proclaim.

    • It’s true. I once was on the email list of another entrepreneur that went through the same rigamarole with EMI, over a decade ago. My biz had “entrepreneur” in the name – I was always a little leery of getting too big. Stupid, really.

  • I don’t understand how this didn’t get thrown out of the courts simple based on the fact that you can’t have ownership or rights of a “word”. Entrepreneur Magazine should be ashamed of themselves.

    • Maelisa Hall PsyD

      I think the big issue is that most of the people they go after don’t have the funds to fight them. It’s despicable.

    • It’s been going on for decades…

  • Thanks for calling them out, these actions don’t make sense. I hope this will get to whoever’s behind it and help them rethink their position. They’ve already lost credibility & ultimately they’re the ones who stand to lose the most. Not to mention, it’s an abuse of the legal system.

  • HeatherBleier

    OMGoodness. Really? I wonder how long before they come after you Seth for using their word entrepreneur in this post, especially since you’ve used it more than once and they clearly own it. #eyeroll #facepalm

    I’m so sorry to hear entrepreneurs are dealing with this junk. I love your closing remark

    Better, I think, to spend the time and the money building something that entrepreneurs actually like and respect.

    and I say amen to those words.

  • JiffyKat

    Thank you Seth Godin for bringing light to this ridiculous behavior by the legal department at EMI.

  • Flavius

    YOU GO, JEN! Being in the media myself, I am ashamed by association of what the industry is doing. Entrepreneur magazine’s energy and lawyers should be spent on figuring out how to produce great content and the future of media, not that crap. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the entrepreneurs win that fight and that despicable practice ends right there.

  • Sue Monhait

    No one says it better than you, Seth! Thanks for standing up for us and in particular Jen. She runs a top notch organization (great pod interview by the way) and shouldn’t have to be distracted by this nonsense.

  • Thank you for calling out Entrepreneur on this, Seth. Whether their actions somehow falls within legalities — which is a little mind-blowing in itself — it’s definitely bad business practice. They’ve lost all credibility with me.

  • Morality is something that’s leaving humanity by the day.

    Why would a company hold others to ransom for being an entrepreneur.

    It’s madness, and should be frowned upon.

    It’s like saying one can’t use the word “person ” because I own the right to the word.

    This shows, that they have missed their way. And they should be ashamed .

  • How TOTALLY ridiculous! They would have to sue half of the on-line marketing world and then a couple of million “entrepreneurs” in addition. Thanks Jen for standing up to these bullies and thank you Seth for the article.

  • Thank you Seth for highlighting this preposterous nonsense. Do those lawyers have nothing better to do with their time? It’s a word for goodness sake! So good to hear a voice of reason. Let’s all call a spade a spade. No more fake law!

  • stephanir

    This is just crazy and sad. I can’t believe that a single term so widely used could EVER be trademarked, maybe “Entrepreneur Magazine” but Entrepreneur? It’s ridiculous. Do Inc, People, and other one-name magazines go after anyone using “their words?” Oy.

    I’m so sorry and shocked to hear that they’re continuing to harass you as an individual this way Jen Lehner, makes no sense. On the bright side, I sense they can tell you have the talent and potential to take over the world and dismantle their organization. :-) Got get ’em!

  • ✨Stephani Roberts

    This is just crazy and sad. I can’t believe that a single term so widely used could EVER be trademarked, maybe “Entrepreneur Magazine” but Entrepreneur? It’s ridiculous. Do Inc, People, and other one-name magazines go after anyone using “their words?” Oy.

    I’m so sorry and shocked to hear that they’re continuing to harass you as an individual this way Jen Lehner, makes no sense. On the bright side, I sense they can tell you have the talent and potential to take over the world and dismantle their organization. :-) Got get ’em!

  • Glad you are championing this. Back in the mid-1990s I began to notice words and phrases being trademarked and wondered how the heck that could have happened. The world has lost its mind on so many things, and this is one of them. Creating angst in the life of an entrepreneur who is serving a lot of other treps is not only bad behavior but bad business.

  • Marnie Ginsberg

    Thank you Seth for calling this ridiculous behavior out. What a waste of human resources and potential. Not exactly nurturing their own entrepreneurial community…

    I hadn’t noticed their work in awhile. But now I’ll have a story to remember them by.

  • Diane Foisy

    Wonderful blog post!! Thank you for speaking out on this Seth Godin!

  • Pat LafordGreen

    “Entrepreneur seeks to inspire, inform and celebrate entrepreneurs. We offer real solutions to the challenges you face as an entrepreneur, including tips, tools and insider news to help build – and grow – your business.”

    This is from their About Us. Their actions make my brain hurt especially in light of this.

  • Jane Anderson

    Oh wow, the irony! I have just unsubscribed. How ridiculous.. Thanks for sharing Seth.

  • Michael Liquori

    Time to cancel my subscription. Maybe that will get their attention.

  • I’ve heard of a TON of people having this same problem. I began trademarking my name: The Entrepreneur’s Secret Lair, and it’s been at a standstill for a year because Entrepreneur magazine had a problem with it. If you look at Entrepreneur On Fires website they have a disclaimer saying they aren’t associated with the magazine so I’m betting JLD had problems too.

  • This is insane… Bullying at its worst. Thank you Seth for speaking out about it. Hopefully, it gets their attention.

  • Anna Eggertz

    … when brand and mission are not aligned …,.

  • Based on Entrepreneur’s actions (which are frankly incomprehensible given the word ‘entrepreneur’ is…uh…A WORD IN OUR LANGUAGE), I won’t be buying anything they sell.

    I’m only sorry I didn’t know they were doing this when I actually used to subscribe to their publication.

  • Sheila D

    This is absolutely ridiculous and Entrepreneur Magazine should be ashamed of themselves. They are stifling the success of the very audience they serve. They are worse than the patent trolls that plagued our world a few years ago.