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The Trademark Battle of the Hon

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Café Hon by sashafatcat on Flickr

Café Hon by sashafatcat on Flickr

Who knew a term of endearment could be so controversial and spark great animosity among those who use it?

Denise Whiting didn’t, but she does now. The long-time Baltimore restaurant owner registered her trademark on the word “Hon” in several applications over the past decade, aiming to protect the name of her Café Hon. (The mark “Café Hon” was registered for the restaurant in 1992.) But when word leaked out, Whiting had done anything but endear herself to locals: residents showed their displeasure by not showing up at Whiting’s restaurant, which has been a fixture in “Bawlmer, Murlin” (quoted from Café Hon’s website) for twenty years.

“Sales are down 25%. I’ve completely sold things, used up my IRA, put it all into the restaurant so I could continue to make payroll . . . expenses . . . so if it doesn’t turn around, I will shut the doors,” said Whiting to ABC News.

Why so much ado about “hon?”

The word “hon” is apparently the unofficial official word of Baltimore, reflecting its history as a working person’s city. One can only imagine the reactions in Philadelphia if someone tried to claim trademark rights to the word “yo!” (As in, “Yo, Adrian, I take my intellectual property rights seriously—please cease and desist immediately!”)

Whiting is currently filming Kitchen Nightmares with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to help get her business turned around; the issue of “hon” came out when Ramsay noted the antagonism in the community surrounding the trademark.

When Whiting connected the dots on the trademark and the economic damage to her restaurant, she decided to give it up.

“I am no longer am going to hold a registration, a trademark, on the word ‘Hon’ due to all the animosity and all the hatred and all the anger and passion that this little word that’s felt in the hearts of so many,” she said.

Baltimore residents have expressed their approval of Whiting’s decision, but only time will tell whether Café Hon and the iconic enormous flamingo in front of the restaurant will survive the Battle of the Hon.

Two questions remain unanswered here, though. First, what does Whiting plan to do with her 1992 registration of “Café Hon?” Is she going to let that go as well? And second, how does Whiting plan to make good on her promise? As of this writing, her registrations for “Hon” and “Café Hon”are still in place. Whiting could certainly decide not to renew her “Café Hon” mark, which will be due for renewal in 2012—that would take care of that. But the various “Hon” renewals (without “Café”) have various maintenance dates, some of which she has presumably already complied with…in which case she would have to take affirmative steps to divest herself of the registrations before their next maintenance dates come…that is, if she’s really in a hurry to do so.

Do you think Whiting was wrong for trying to lay claim to a city’s favorite word, even though it’s also the name of her restaurant? Is it strange that locals got upset only when they found out about her registration, but had loved the restaurant and the name up until then?  Whaddya think, hon?

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<a href="" title="Who owns the word “hon”? Should Denise Whiting hold a trademark on Baltimore’s favorite word?">Who owns the word “hon”? Should Denise Whiting hold a trademark on Baltimore’s favorite word?</a>
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November 8th, 2011 at 10:03 am

Posted in Intellectual Property

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