New York Times Sues HuffPo Over Mommy Issues

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The Huffington Post not only poached the Gray Lady’s popular “Motherlode” columnist, it also had the chutzpah to name the upstart blog “Parentlode.” Now, the Times thinks Arianna and friends need a timeout.

On Friday, the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) made good on a recent threat and sued Huffington Post parent AOL (NYSE: AOL) for trademark infringement and breaching New York state business laws. Its complaint says that the new Parentlode blog by Times alum Lisa Belkin had confused consumers:

readers of Ms. Belkin’s blog believ[e] her blog was a continuation of NTYCo’s Motherlode blog when in fact NTYCo continues to publish its Motherlode blog.

The Times claims that Motherlode, now being penned by guest contributors, continues to be one of the site’s most popular blogs. But there is evidence that a portion of the readership has migrated to join Belkin at her new HuffPo digs. Perhaps out of spite, the Times also appears to have removed all of Belkin’s entries from its site.

As Alison Frankel notes, the case also raises the interesting question of who really owns a news brand — an individual writer or the news organization who hosts it. The issue came up in the UK this summer when a popular BBC editor changed jobs and took her 60,000 Twitter followers to a competitor.

The fight over the parenting blogs — which appear to offer advice about everything from PG movies to slutty Halloween costumes — is likely to turn on the basic trademark law test of whether the HuffPo entity creates “a likelihood of confusion” in the minds of consumers.

The Times would have had a stronger case if it possessed a registered trademark. It turns out the company only filed to register the mark less than two weeks ago and must now wait for it to be approved. The Times will not be the first to register the Motherlode mark. A federal database shows that others have used Motherlode in various trademark categories, including “wine” and “hamburger sandwich.”

The Huffington Post has also recently sought a trademark for Parentlode for “Online journals, namely, blogs in the field of parenting and family.”

NYT and HuffPo trademark
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2 Comments

Jeff Roberts

Thanks for the very crisp and helpful analysis, Fletch. I’m guessing you’re a trademark attorney?

Fletch

Fairly simple case…
1. Ownership depends on writer’s employee status and if there was a contract. If the columnist was an employee, then everything they create is the property of the employer. If they had Motherlode prior to joining to NYT, then there should be a contract dictating the ownership post divorce.
2. The only Motherlode trademarks of consequence are ones involving journalism or online content. If NYT wanted to start a Motherlode burger, then they would have an issue.
3. The inclusion of “lode” in HuffPo’s blog using the same writer is enough to cause confusion.
4. Parentlode is a dumb name.

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