As a newbie in the newsroom at CBS, I kept hearing the term “bigfoot”  used as a verb, as in “He was big-footed.”

It had nothing to do with the size of someone’s shoe…it was the size of their ego.

The Chief White House Correspondent would come in on a weekend to “big-foot” the weekend beat reporter if important news had occurred on his day off.   This was such a common practice the Bureau Chief had to spend precious editorial time mediating disputes between his hotshot startup reporters and the veterans.

Big-footing is ego-driven but it’s also a form of bullying– marking your territory to keep competitors out of your space.

This is not unfamiliar to anyone who has struggled to name a product or a business.

“Trademark bullying” is rampant, and it can kill a new business before it’s launched but after it may have invested tens of thousands in design, packaging, branding and PR.

We are obliged to support the protection of creative works and companies certainly have a right to protect their investment in their own logos and brands.  But sometimes businesses reach outside their category and claim common words, prefixes or suffixes.

The words “live” and “strong” in your name can put you out of business faster than you can say “performance enhancement.”  Use Face or Book  in a web address and you might have to kiss your url goodbye.

The US Patent and Trademark Office is partly to blame, but with  companies can now do a quick and dirty search during the brainstorming session and immediately eliminate names that might cause headaches.

Sometimes your general business liability insurance will cover your legal fees in trademark disputes.  Even if you don’t end up in a dispute, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer as soon as you can afford one.

But for the early days of brainstorming names, trademarkia has useful information about actions taken against others with the name you’re considering.   This allows you to calculate your risk:  if too many others have been shut down after an “inter partes decision” you know you’ll need to get more creative.

Trademark bullying can rack up some nice billable hours for the big-foot law firms.  Heaven help you if you try to stand your ground just because you’re on the right side of the law.  You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight.  Your only recourse is to take it to social and mainstream media, who love a good David vs. Goliath story and usually side with the underdog.

Predictably some think “trademark bullying” is not a big problem; but they’ve probably never received a cease and desist letter from Johnson & Johnson.  Cha-ching go the legal fees and badabing goes your business.

My former last name, Ringe, looks like “RINDGE” but it’s pronounced “Ring”.  That’s the truth, but it also means we probably won’t be sued by “Ring Power Corporation”  “Ring Precision Component Parts” and “Lord of the Rings”.

My first choice might have been my Scottish family name.  It’s a great name. But I can’t tell you what it is…secret.

Anything with a Mc or a Mac was claimed long ago.

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