Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wrestling's Golden Era

Mean Gene Okerlund - remember him? - is suing his nephew's company.

Jeff Okerlund was president of Hot Stuff Foods, based in Sioux Falls, SD. Hot Stuff Foods had a Mene Gene line of foods. This includes Mean Gene's Burgers and Mean Gene's Pizza.

According to this brief article, Hot Stuff Foods wrongly registered trademarks on both brand names without permission of Gene Okerlund. Of course, Hot Stuff Foods denies that its trademark registrations were done improperly. Jeff Okerlund insisted on the stand that if it were done properly, Gene Okerlund would have registered his name as a mark and then it would have been licensed to Hot Stuff Foods.

I would agree if Mean Gene Okerlund was the name that Gene Okerlund used himself to promote himself. I remember it always in connection to wrestling, however. A quick search of the USPTO trademark database finds that "MEAN GENE" (U.S. serial number 74099624) was a mark that Titan Sports, Inc, doing business as The World Wrestling Federation filed, but never registered. That application is now abandoned, though I'd argue that "Mean Gene" Okerlund was always associated with wrestling.

What else strikes me as interesting is that "MEAN GENE'S PIZZA" was filed by both Eugene Okerlund and Orion Food Systems (which seems to be a predecessor to Hott Stuff Foods) in different applications. In Okerlund's application, a final refusal to register the mark was recently mailed. "MEAN GENE'S BURGERS," however, is owned by Hot Stuff Foods only.

Certainly, this is a confusing mess and I don't envy the decision maker in this trial (since day two of the trial was yesterday, June 20, 2006). With nobody owning a registered trademark, is Gene Okerlund trying to assert what is called "common law" trademark?

Does Gene Okerlund then really own the mark of "MEAN GENE"? Would he have been "Mean Gene" Okerlund without the wrestling industry? I would argue that he would not be known at all. That leads me to believe he would not own any rights in "MEAN GENE" as a mark - but maybe he has been able to assert common law marks by making public appearances outside of wrestling matches and television shows owned by Titan Sports, Inc.

The more that I think about it, the more interesting this case becomes.

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