19 September 2016Trademarks

Oprah Winfrey prevails in ‘Own Your Power’ TM dispute

US talk show host Oprah Winfrey has defeated an appeal in a trademark dispute filed by a motivational speaker.

On Friday, September 16, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment handed down by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in March last year.

The case concerned a trademark dispute between Winfrey and Simone Kelly-Brown, the CEO of Own Your Power Communications, a life coaching business.

Kelly-Brown applied to register a trademark at the US Patent and Trademark Office for ‘Own Your Power’ in 2008.

It is described as a mark “consist[ing] of light blue scripted letters which create the words ‘Own Your 'Power.’”

Kelly-Brown sued Winfrey at the US District Court for the District of New Jersey in July 2011, and claimed various causes of action under the Lanham Act, trademark infringement, reverse confusion and false designation.

Winfrey had used the phrase ‘own your power’, without the stylistic features associated with Kelly-Brown's mark, in her television show, magazine and at a small event.

In March 2015, WIPR reported that Winfrey had won her case at the New York district court.

In that ruling, Judge Paul Crotty said: “Since the parties offer fundamentally different services, they are not competitors. Plaintiff provides small scale/individual life coaching, while defendant uses various international platforms to send positive messages though its global media empire.”

Crotty also rejected Kelly-Brown’s claims that Winfrey’s use of the phrase would cause confusion between the two companies.

The latest decision, at the Second Circuit, agreed that the phrase ‘own your power’ is not distinctive and lacks independent trademark protection.

The court added that “no reasonable jury could conclude that the descriptive phrase … had acquired secondary meaning … at the time of the defendants' alleged infringement.”

It explained that Kelly-Brown could not successfully assert independent trademark rights in “the literal portion of their composite mark standing alone, and that this portion of their mark was thus extremely weak”.

It also analysed part of the earlier court ruling that said ‘Own Your Power’ couldn’t be trademarked as it was not distinctive enough.

The appeals court found that the phrase is “merely descriptive”, adding that its “determination that ‘own your power’ is not on its own distinctive ends this litigation.”

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More on this story

9 March 2015   A US court has ruled in favour of television presenter Oprah Winfrey in a dispute over the ‘Own your power’ trademark, re-affirming an earlier decision.