RE/MAX’s lock on red white and blue
When a company is approved for a trademark, they typically defend it with vigor, especially when they are a large, world-renowned brand like RE/MAX looking to avoid any confusion in the marketplace. It would be ignorant not to.
For decades, RE/MAX has defended their red-over-white-over-blue trademark, sending cease and desist letters to any brokerage they discover using signage with their trademarked red-white-blue combo.
Upon receiving a letter from RE/MAX letter, most parties invest the money to change all of their signage, often out of fear of the threat of a lawsuit, but others fight back.
Trend Setter Realty lost, despite a last minute argument
In 2009, in the U.S. District Court in Houston, Texas, Trend Setter Realty lost their battle against RE/MAX, as the court reaffirmed RE/MAX’s protected trademark under state and federal law. RE/MAX successfully argued that in a consumer study comparing the two signs, 25 percent of those surveyed believed Trend Setter Realty was affiliated with RE/MAX because of similarities in their signage.
It is rumored that last minute, Trend Setter Realty’s lawyers invoked the mysterious Lanham Act, which states that any mark that consists of or comprises the flag of any foreign nation cannot be registered as a trademark. It is said that the judge threw out the argument as a last minute stunt.
Judge is currently reviewing the Lanham Act in a case
In an active case brought by RE/MAX against Matt Jones and FavoriteAgent.com, after several years of back and forth between the two companies for Jones’ use of red-over-white-over-blue in his signage, a judge has surprisingly agreed to hear the Lanham Act/Netherlands Flag argument, despite throwing out other portions of Jones’ argument.
Jones compares RE/MAX’s trademark against the flag of the Netherlands, asserting that the two are identical and the trademark should never have been granted to the company, according to the Lanham Act. In his blog, he asks readers to determine which is the Netherlands flag and which is the RE/MAX trademark, implying that there is confusion (the same argument RE/MAX is using regarding his use of the color combo in his signage):
According to the Act, “In any action involving a registered mark the court may determine the right to registration, order the cancellation of registrations, in whole or in part, restore canceled registrations, and otherwise rectify the register with respect to the registrations of any party to the action. Decrees and orders shall be the court to the Director, who shall make appropriate entry upon the records of the Patent and Trademark Office, and shall be controlled thereby.”
This is not a new battle, but the fight could soon end
RE/MAX has defended their trademark against brokers small and large, and has even sued CBS for featuring a real estate sign in a CSI episode that was too similar to their trademark, and gone after eBay for using a sign similar to theirs in a commercial that could lead viewers with the impression that “RE/MAX typically engages in the sale of homes that are in disrepair.”
Commenters on Jones’ blog posts have chimed in with their own experiences, and one source tells us that they’ve even received a cease and desist letter for using two dark colored bars separated by a white bar in the center, even though it used neither red, nor blue.
RE/MAX is being called a bully by some and defended by others for smart business. A handful of brokers have asserted they’re considering a class action case, likely based on the outcome of Jones’ case. Many have opined that they understand the validity of the hot air balloon trademark, but something as vague as red white and blue alludes them, as they often use the colors to celebrate the American flag without a second thought about competing with RE/MAX, much less confusing consumers.
Others have tried this argument, and no judge has considered hearing it before (likely because the Netherlands flag comes up last minute after a loss is already apparent), but if this judge agrees that the Lanham Act nullifies RE/MAX’s logo based on the identical Netherlands flag, a decades-old argument disallowing the use of red white and blue bars on real estate signs could come to an abrupt end.
Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?
(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?
The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.
While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.
When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).
In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.
However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.
Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.
RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy
(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.
It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.
Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.
The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.
Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.
In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.
Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.
Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?
2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold
(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.
Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.
Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”
Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.
It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.
Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.
The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”
Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
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