March 07, 2012 12:32pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Oprah Winfrey Wins 'Own Your Power' Trademark Lawsuit
Oprah Winfrey might not be as powerful as she once was in the media industry, but her legal muscle is still strong enough to rebuff a lawsuit that claimed she couldn't own the phrase "Own Your Power" on her magazine and TV show.
The media queen was taken to court two years ago after O, The Oprah Magazine featured on its cover a photograph of Winfrey and the headline, "Own Your Power," surrounded by maxims like "Unlock Your Inner Superstar," "Tap Into Your Strength" and "Focus Your Energy." The issue featured a Power List, and ran in conjunction with corporate-sponsored events and an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that promoted the issue.
She was sued for trademark infringement by Simone Kelly-Brown, a woman who ran a company specializing in motivational services that had registered "Own Your Power" as a mark in 1996. On Tuesday, a New York federal judge dismissed the claims.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff argued that Winfrey had violated her trademark rights and confused the origin of her mark.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Crotty ruled in his decision that there could be no confusion about the source and that Winfrey had a right to descriptively label her magazine.
Looking at the cover, the judge saw the magazine's trademark "O" as identification that the phrase was meant as a headline, describing the contents of the magazine.
Kelly-Brown believed that this actually worked against Winfrey insofar as the defendant was trying to combine the trademarked "O" with the plaintiff's own mark to create a "single source identifier."
The judge rejects this analysis because of Winfrey's well-known trademark and reputation, the clear display of the magazine copy, and the innocent use of the phrase -- a coverline describing what's inside the magazine.
The plaintiff questioned whether "Own Your Power" really described the contents of the 2010 issue at issue, but the judge notes that such sayings as "Tap Into Your Strength" and "Let Your Best Self Shine" denote the type of encouragement that readers would be getting by picking up a copy.
The judge also says that Winfrey didn't use the mark in bad faith, that there wasn't any trademark use so there didn't need to be any analysis over likelihood of confusion, and that Winfrey doesn't have liability for others infringing the trademark. On that latter point, the judge ruled that if there wasn't direct infringement, there couldn't be secondary infringement. As a result, the judge didn't have to get into what would have been an interesting discussion over whether Winfrey's power is so vast that she could get others to repeat what she said.