'Hon' has a long cultural, not commercial, history here

Patents, Copyrights and TrademarksDenise WhitingThe Coca-Cola Company

I have read with great curiosity the news articles and corresponding commentaries regarding Denise Whiting's business practices and particularly her management of the HonFest, which she also is a principal. Denise Whiting, who owns Café Hon, has, as you all know, trademarked the term, "hon."

This term has historically had an endearing quality to it. There are many staff at Hopkins, where I study, that use hon with remarkable frequency. And I rather like it. Its use by the rooted, multi-generational working women of Baltimore creates a sense of warmth, hospitality and joy. It is also slightly flirty, which makes hon all the more fun. Being called hon always brings a smile to my face.

In contrast, Ms. Whiting, via her lawyer, Kathryn Miller Goldman, has trademarked the use of the word hon. The word has now taken on identity in merchandise and business. Hon is now a cold objective word, used for the purpose of revenue generation; you buy a bumper sticker, T-shirt or coffee mug with the word hon on it. Ms. Whiting controls the word and now makes money as a result of its tangible use.

The shrewdness of Ms. Whiting's calculated business decision stirred my interest. So I looked up her trademark filings with the U.S. Patient and Trademark Office. It turns out that Ms. Whiting has a series of trademarks. She originally filed "Café Hon" for trademark May 11, 1992. This is filed under serial number 74274656 of the USPTO. Ms. Whiting, then via Ms. Goldman, filled a series of new trademarks in 2005 and 2007. The June 1, 2005 filing reserves the use of the word "hon" for use in goods and services, including: "paper goods, bumper stickers, napkins, note cards, gift cards, greeting cards, stationery, wrapping paper, gift bags, note pads, note paper, calendars and pens" (Ref: serial number 78641344). She also reserved the right for use in "clothing, namely, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, hats and caps, boas, short sleeved shirts, shorts, capri pants, underwear, ties, halter tops." To supplement this, Ms. Goldman aided Ms. Whiting by filing a standard character mark for the use of hon on January 2, 2007. There too are a number of other trademark filings, including: 1743791 and 2964744. I found no mention of cat's eye glasses.

A trademark is, according to the USPTO, is a "badge of origin" that companies can use to uniquely identify the origin of products or services. For example, Coca-Cola is clearly made by said company. "Café Hon" clearly designates Ms. Whiting's core business, and she rightfully has a right to the use of this particular term in its appropriate context. The central issue is that Ms. Whiting has taken personal ownership and control of the use of the word "hon" as the badge uniquely identifying her business. "Café Hon" uniquely identifies her business, not "hon." "Hon" is steeped in the long, cultural history of Baltimore. The working women of Charm City have used this term for generations, passing it down from mother to daughter. Ms. Whiting, in contrast, has used "hon" for a mere 4 years for other intents.

One can file a dispute with the USPTO based on such grounds. This may be worth consideration.

Robert Borotkanics, Baltimore

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