Entrepreneur, the Magazine That Sues Entrepreneurs
Professor Mark Lemley spoke with Paul M Barrett of Bloomberg Business Week about the irony of the Entrepreneur Media, Inc. v. Entreprenuer.com lawsuit.
Entrepreneur Media Inc. sells the idea of the self-made little guy getting ahead. Based in Irvine, Calif., EMI, as the company is known, publishes Entrepreneur, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 607,000 and a colorful history. According to newspaper reports, the periodical's founder and former owner, Chase Revel, once tried robbing banks for a living. Today, EMI conducts seminars revealing "business success secrets" of a more mainstream nature. It markets instructional CDs and sells advertising to package deliverers, health insurers, and franchisers such as Wahoo's Fish Taco restaurants. In other words, EMI caters to all things entrepreneurial. Strangely, it also smashes the dreams of the self- starters it aims to serve.
Daniel R. Castro, a serial entrepreneur in Austin, Tex., received a stern letter from EMI's lawyers last September ordering him to "cease and desist" using his new website, EntrepreneurOlogy.com. In his day, Castro, 50, has started a law firm, a mortgage company, and a real estate-lending outfit. He employs a half-dozen people full-time and coordinates the work of a platoon of brokers. He also delivers motivational speeches to other business owners and hopes the new website will provide an online home for a workshop series. "I was dumbfounded," he says of the cease-and-desist letter. Like a lot of people who work for themselves, he doesn't like to be told what to do. "Their problem," he says of EMI, "was that they didn't know who they were picking on."
Demonized by those it pursues, EMI's legal strategy benefits from the momentum of a larger judicial trend. "The point of federal trademark law is to prevent consumer confusion," explains Mark A. Lemley, an intellectual property scholar at Stanford Law School. "In recent decades, though, courts have expanded the idea of consumer confusion so much that you have businesses like Entrepreneur Media stifling other, smaller businesses whose goods or services just aren't likely to interfere with consumers making well-informed decisions." In EMI's case, the professor adds, "it's particularly ironic because the trademark holder is in the business of helping the kinds of people and businesses it's suing."