Tuesday, August 5, 2008

H&R Block Sues American Express Over “I got people”

H&R Block last week filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against American Express over its trademark “I got people.” News stories here and here.

H&R Block points to what it calls its “My people” ad campaign where customers are depicted relying on H&R Block’s “people” to handle not just their taxes but other routine personal assistant tasks. H&R Block claims that its extensive radio and TV ads, print ads, billboards and online ads have made the public come to identify the phrase “I got people” with H&R Block.

H&R Block maintains that American Express, through one of its ads running as part of American Express’ own "Are you a card member?" campaign, infringed H&R Block’s trademark rights. The specific ad at issue (YouTube link here) features Ellen DeGeneres and Beyonce Knowles where Beyonce tells DeGeneres to "have your people call my people" and DeGeneres walks around trying to figure out who her “people” are -- ultimately realizing that she can rely on American Express for her needs. The lawsuit states that during the 60 minute ad, the word “people” is used 12 times, the concept of having “people” is used for times, and “my people” is used six times. [Ed. – so?]

H&R Block’s causes of action are for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution.

Vegas™Esq. Comments:
It is somewhat coincidental that the American Express ad first ran on April 28th – thirteen days after H&R BLOCK obtained a federal trademark registration for the mark I GOT PEOPLE (for tax preparation services for others). H&R Block is also seeking to register WE'VE GOT PEOPLE, I'VE GOT PEOPLE, and YOU'VE GOT PEOPLE for similar services.

However, as “famous” as H&R Block may think its slogan has become (I have a vague recollection of seeing one TV commercial), I doubt that anyone is likely to believe that there is an affiliate or connection between H&R Block’s “I Got People” tax preparation services and American Express’ use of the “people” phrase to advertise its credit card services (where the reference to people is used in a comical manner to allude to the idea that all Hollywood celebrities have “people” to handle their affairs and not necessarily as a source identifier).

Two for Tuesday: Check out Michael Atkins’ Seattle Trademark Lawyer blog post here reminding the public of how trademarks, when used properly, emphasize a particular company’s proprietary “brand” and not a common word that stands for a type of good. I often tell clients that one way to tell if a word serves as a trademark or service mark is to incorporate the word “brand” followed by the common word for a good or service. Of course, the advice works better for 1 to 2 word marks and less so for slogans (as noted below by anonymous). After all, will you be using H&R Block’s I GOT PEOPLE brand of tax preparation services next year?


Anonymous said...

You also don't say "Melts in your mouth, not in your hand brand candy." The test doesn't really work that well with slogans.

Ryan Gile said...

Point taken anonymous. I've clarified above. Thanks.