When Barack and Michelle Obama left the White House, they formed a “media production” company and signed a lucrative deal with Netflix to produce content for the popular video streaming service.
But the name that the Obamas chose for their company, Higher Ground Productions, is strikingly similar to the name of a North Carolina-based e-book publishing company known as Higher Ground Enterprises, which has been in existence for over a decade. A legal fight ensued, and now, a lawyer for the small business has accused the former first family of “deplorable behavior.”
The Hollywood Reporter was the first to report that the Obamas had taken “aggressive” legal action against the much smaller company after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sided with Higher Ground Enterprises in April and rejected the Obamas’ bid to trademark their similarly named Higher Ground Productions.
Higher Ground Enterprises has been in existence since 2008 and is run by a woman named Hanisya Massey, whose business revolves around helping unknown authors publish their own e-books. Her attorney, Larry Zerner, is now accusing the Obamas of engaging in “deplorable behavior” in their effort to essentially steal away the name of Massey’s business.
“The Obamas have known for almost a year that their Higher Ground trademark application was rejected by the USPTO because it infringed my client’s rights,” Zerner said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Instead of simply picking another name, the Obamas’ lawyers have now filed a meritless petition to cancel my client’s trademark so they can take it for themselves.”
Zerner went on: “This is really deplorable behavior. I hope that the Obamas realize that these actions are not consistent with the values they preach and that they instruct their attorneys to immediately dismiss the petition.”
The Obamas declined a request for comment from the Reporter, but parts of their petition to the trademark office reveal just how arrogant and entitled they really are; they dismissed the already existing trademarked company name as being small and meaningless in comparison to their much larger and more influential business.
“The consumers of ‘media production services’ covered by the Application are likely to be highly sophisticated,” the Obamas’ petition argued, an obvious slight at the smaller company and its own clients. “Media production services are generally offered not to individual consumers but to commercial entities and professionals in their field.”
The petition went on: “Indeed, Applicant has entered a deal with Netflix in connection with its media production services. Such customers, whether multi-billion-dollar media companies or smaller commercial entities in need of media production services, will exercise the height of care in selecting a media production company and are highly unlikely to be confused by a photographer or e-book publisher — particularly when the other party uses a distinguishable mark.”
Do as we say, not as we do
Unfortunately for the Obamas, the USPTO was unmoved by the argument and ultimately ruled that “the overriding concern is not only to prevent buyer confusion as to the source of the goods and/or services, but to protect the registrant from adverse commercial impact due to use of a similar mark by a newcomer.”
But despite that rejection, the Obamas have continued to fight against the smaller company.
This move by the Obamas reeks of hypocritical elitism. It just goes to show that all of the talk from the Obamas about equality and lifting up women was just that — talk.