HuffPost reporter David Lohr writes about crime every day, but he was shocked to learn that he might be guilty of a trademark violation -- for sporting a goatee.
"I think I was inspired by Chuck Norris," says Lohr, who began sporting his whiskers in the mid 1990s.
Now, however, his bearded visage may be at risk. A Russian man named I.V. Pugach says he owns the trademark to this facial hairstyle.
Pugach, whose last name translates to “scarecrow,” claims to have trademarked the goatee, which he describes on his website as a beard with no sideburns that covers just the chin and the patch above the upper lip, according to New York Times blogger Masha Gessen.
Not only does Pugach claim the beard is the exclusive province -- and a "racial attribute" -- of the Russian people, but he believes that misuse of the beard, which, to him, means it being worn by non-Russians, is a form of genocide.
He even goes as far as to say that Barack Obama has been remiss in not punishing Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for wearing the beard, and is demanding non-Russians pay him $600 for the rights to his goatee ($30,000 if they are famous), while TV stations should give him $4 million to license the goatee.
That could be a lot of money, since the goatee is favored by a variety of men, including seasoned crime journalists like Lohr, telecommuting software engineers, semi-artsy fat guys and aging wannabe indie rock moguls.
Lohr thinks Pugach's claim is "ridiculous," but is open to defending himself in open court.
"If they want to extradite me to Russia, I'll take the free ticket," he told The Huffington Post. "But I should be grandfathered in, since I've had it for so long."
The situation may not be as hairy as it seems, according to Phil Olsen, who heads Beard Team USA, an organization of American men who promote the growing art of bearding.
"It's hard to trademark something millions of people have," Olsen defiantly told The Huffington Post. "The goatee trademarked it before him. There won't be a struggle in the beard world. There won't be many people sending [Pugach] $4 million. Besides, the goatee is not the rage it once was. Full beards have really taken off."
Goatee buffs who are fearful of having a cossack process server show up at their home are probably safe according to T.C. Johnston, a San Diego-based attorney who specializes in intellectual property.
He says that for Pugach to prevail in court, he would have to show that his beard was distinctive, or acquired distinctiveness.
"If he is a hugely popular blogger, he may have enough eyeballs on his page to argue successfully that a substantial portion of the consuming public has grown to associate the beard with him," he told The Huffington Post. "But the dude looks like Trotsky and he ain't Dali, whom I think would have a better chance.
"Is that particular beard distinctive enough that he can require a license, or sue for infringement for anyone else who uses it? I wouldn't think so. But that doesn't mean it couldn't get past the licensing board."
Although Johnson concedes he is not licensed to practice law in Russia, he believes that Pugach would have a hard time extracting licenses, or suing successfully over someone else having the beard, "unless they were also lunatics who blog about similar subjects."
Johnston also notes that the beard trademark seems to be designed to protect historical use by others.
"That means, by his own arguments, he has no right to exclusive use," Johnston said. "Note no actual lawsuits by him over for beard infringement are reported."
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