HONOR — National website Huffington Post joined with a restaurant chain to produce a blog with a name, logo and content similar to a Benzie County man’s patented, trademarked business model, a move that raised questions about whether the AOL-owned media property copied his concept.
Timothy Young, proprietor of Food for Thought in Honor, launched his business in 1995. Food for Thought sells organic food products while advocating for what Young calls an equitable food system.
The goal, Young said, is to raise awareness about where our food comes from and the human and environmental costs of getting food on the cheap.
“(The business) was an extension of the human relief work I’d done ... largely in Guatemala and El Salvador,” Young said.
Young launched an identically named blog, Food for Thought, to further his advocacy. The two properties helped Young survive as a businessman while making a stand for his beliefs.
“We’ve always focused on being locally based,” Young said. “Our first product was a wild blueberry Merlot jam, and I literally went up to the Upper Peninsula and picked wild blueberries until I had blisters on my fingers.”
Two weeks ago, Young was surprised to learn that a national website and restaurant chain are discussing the same issues he’s been talking about for nearly two decades. That’s certainly not a problem for Young, but he’s alarmed that Huffington Post and Chipotle are doing so under his trademarked, patented name.
Huffington Post and Chipotle’s new blog is called Food for Thought. The logos also have similarities and the content of the Huffington Post blog delves into the same issues Young has been writing about for years in his Food for Thought blog.
Young’s wife, Kathy, stumbled across the Huffington Post blog about two weeks ago.
“They are strikingly similar,” Young said. “They even use language that is similar to the language I’ve used.”
Huffington Post and Chipotle did not respond to a Record-Eagle reporter’s specific requests for comment. Young’s attorney emailed Huffington Post with concerns that the blog is nearly identical to Young’s, but they, too, haven’t received a response.
Young, in turn, went to his blog and to social media to ask consumers to contact Huffington Post to ask that they change the name.
“A large corporate entity is infringing on our trademark,” he wrote. “It does not make it easier that they are an entity I respect, and it is for a good cause. It is infringement just the same.”
Young recognizes the term Food for Thought is a commonly used phrase and has various meanings. But he trademarked the term for his niche market of food production and awareness.
“If someone opened a Food For Thought insurance company, I would have no standing,” Young said.
Two nationally known trademark attorneys interviewed by the Record-Eagle said trademark cases like Young’s can be incredibly complex and often are settled out of court.
“The essential issue is whether there is a likelihood of confusion,” said Don Gardner, a Grand Rapids-based attorney who practiced trademark law for more than 40 years. “Those are the key words ... and exact similarity is not necessary for a likelihood of confusion.”
Josh Gerben is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who practices only trademark litigation. He said business owners should consider hiring an expert to research the proper legal protections before they register a business trademark.
Trademark law is designed to protect consumers,” Gerben said. “It’s not to protect Mr. Young or Huffington Post, but to protect consumers. If consumers are confused -- if they saw the blog, would the average consumer think it was connected to Mr. Young? If that can be shown, you have confusion in the marketplace.”
Young is examining his legal options. The end result, he hopes, is that Huffington Post changes the name.
“This to me is more of an ethical issue than anything else,” Young said.