New Titles Play the Name Game

Article excerpt

At a time when new books continue to crowd the market and branding is all the rage, it's no wonder that the titles of some emerging magazines are a little too close for everyone's comfort. In certain cases, it's up to trademark lawyers and the courts to determine what's in a name, and, of course, how much.

One recent trademark conflict involved Content, the coming start-up from Brill Media Ventures. Steve Brill, founder of The American Lawyer, announced last July that he was launching Content, designed to serve as a media watchdog. Meanwhile, a Savannah, Georgia-based book called Contents had already been publishing since 1993.

Contents, with a national circulation of 50,000, is an oversize arts quarterly known in film and fashion circles for its sumptuous photo spreads. Founder and creative director Joseph Alfieris says he was considering how to protect his magazine's name when Brill's camp contacted him in September. (The title Contents had not been registered as a trademark, but, according to Alfieris' lawyer Jim Starnes, had achieved trademark status under common law, which recognizes a mark through its use over time.)

In mid-November the two parties reached what Alfieris calls an amicable settlement, meaning Brill gave him a six-figure sum in exchange for not suing. Alfieris says Contents retains the right to its name, and for the time being he will continue to publish under that name. Considering the size and format of Contents, few consumers are likely to be confused when the books do turn up at the same newsstand. Brill says that based on some court precedents, he didn't think he would have had legal problems, but he opted for an ounce of prevention.

(Ironically, Contents, which was gearing up to launch a new magazine tentatively titled Blink, has run into its own trademark snag: Barnes & Noble, which owns a children's newsletter called "Blink," applied to register its trademark just months earlier. …