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Branding “Intel”

March 15, 2010

After retiring from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division in 2007 and spending the next 15 months in Iraq, “conducting human intelligence” about who was planting roadside bombs, Sgt. Chris Strom settled down in Roanoke, Virginia, and opened a private investigations agency. He called it Intel Investigations.

One of the first people he heard from was Christopher E. George, the senior attorney in charge of trademarks and brands for the Intel Corporation. He warned Strom that he had misappropriated the “Intel” brand.

It may have sounded like a joke, but Christopher E. George wasn’t kidding. According to news reports, Intel, the semi-conductor giant, files five to 10 trademark lawsuits each year. In 2008, Intel sued 15 companies with the word “intel” in their names.

“The Intel name and trademark is among the most famous in the world and is entitled to a broad scope of protection under the U.S. and state intellectual property laws,” George wrote Strom in January.

In another letter to Strom this month, George continued to spew the company line: “The law obligates us to enforce our trademark against infringing third party uses. Failure to do so could mean the loss or rights of our famous mark.

“Your use is not a fair use of the term ‘intel’ as a reference to military intelligence. Your use is an impermissible truncation of the word ‘intelligent’ used in connection with private investigation related services. Just as you would not say that someone is very ‘intel,’ [meaning intelligent], your use of ‘intel’ to denote ‘intelligent’ investigations is a ‘fanciful’ or ‘arbitrary’ use of the term and thus is not a merely descriptive fair use.”

George tried to persuade Strom to have a telephone conversation.

“I have often found that discussing matters over the phone can lead to better understanding of opposing positions and quick resolution of adverse matters,” he wrote Strom. “Such conversations can always be [and often are] memorialized in writing.”

Strom wasn’t buying. He no more wanted to talk to Lawyer George than George wanted to talk to Your Humble Servant. Enter Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy, who handles inquiries related to legal matters.

“It’s about keeping the brand name,” said Mulloy. “Billions of dollars are involved. We have an aggressive program to protect the copyright. We have had tons of cases like these – literally in the hundreds.”

Mulloy said he did not know how many cases, if any, Intel had won in court. The majority, he said, do not end up in litigation. Referring to Strom and Intel Investigations, Mulloy said, “We are not into threatening people. We want to work with him.”

In a telephone interview, Strom said, “I’m David fighting Goliath.” He fired off the following letter to the company: “According to the dictionary, ‘Intel’ is an abbreviation from the word ‘Intelligence’, and is commonly used in both military and police forums to describe information respective to the type of collection. As evidenced from my resume, my background is definitively from both military and law enforcement Intelligence fields.”

So who’s right? More important, who will win?

If past is prelude, it doesn’t look good for Strom. In 2008, Intel sued Barry Hood, a California electrician, who called his company “Intellectric.” Intel sought $50,000 in damages. Hood couldn’t afford the legal fees and accepted $3,500 from Intel to change the name.

Obviously, Intel has the resources to drag Strom into court and bankrupt him. But who made the 40-year-old company King of the Dictionary?

A New York attorney, with expertise in copyright and trademark law, said, “The problem for Intel is that the word ‘intel’ exists as slang for intelligence and has been for many years. It precedes the existence of Intel by decades, if not centuries. What they [Intel] are doing may be understandable but they cannot expect to take a word that has existed in colloquial vernacular in English and obtain a monopoly on its use.

“There has to be some middle ground. Where does it lie? You won’t know until a judge or jury tells you.”

KELLY’S CONTROL. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is a control freak. Anyone who knows him, knows that.

 
Leonard Levitt's new book, NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force, will be out in stores July 21. Preorder it today by clicking on the book at right.

Remember the 2003 anti-Iraq protest marches when hundreds were arrested, then questioned in their jail cells about their friends, colleagues, organizations, political affiliations, views about Israel and the Middle East? Their answers were written on a “Demonstration Debriefing Form” and their names entered into a databank, which Kelly said was destroyed after the New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the practice.

The following year, the police began keeping another data bank that dwarfs the numbers of people on the Demonstration Debriefing Forms by about 2,800 to one. From 2004 through 2009, the police have had nearly three million stop-and-frisk encounters, which involve patting people down or questioning them. Virtually all of those stopped are black or Hispanic. In 88 per cent of the cases, the people searched or questioned were innocent of wrongdoing.

So why put the names of innocent people into a databank? Kelly wrote to City Councilman Peter Vallone in June, 2009, saying, “Information contained in the stop, question and frisk database remains there indefinitely for use in future investigations.”

Until now, there has been a virtual media blackout about Kelly’s stop-and-frisks, mainly because the media, elected officials and the public are reluctant to criticize the department in the wake of 9/11.

During the Giuliani years, former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer criticized the department’s stop-and frisks as racial profiling. Current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has remained silent on the issue. Ditto our so-called black leaders, such as former Mayor David Dinkins and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Now some history. Stop-and-frisk had been the tactic of the department’s former plainclothes Street Crime Unit, which prided itself on getting guns off the streets. After four improperly trained Street Crime cops shot and killed the unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999, Police Commissioner Howard Safir put the unit into uniform, in effect destroying it. Upon taking office in 2002, Kelly abolished it entirely.

For the record, nobody wants a return to the random violence of the early 1990s. But is the current crime decline, which has continued for the past 15 years, in any way related to Kelly’s aggressive stop-and-frisk policies, which began in 2004?

Now, the climate seems to be changing. Again prodded by the Civil Liberties Union, such usual police apologists as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Vallone have protested to Kelly about the database, although not about the stop-and-frisks.

There also appears to be some movement at the police department. After a recent letter from Vallone and Quinn to Kelly, First Deputy Commissioner [in all but name] Paul Browne said, “They made some interesting points, which Commissioner Kelly is considering.”


KELLY AWAY?
Kelly was noticeably away from the microphones Friday evening after police arrested a Pennsylvania construction worker for allegedly beating up a woman in a Times Square bar.

Maybe Kelly is husbanding his strength for his upcoming Big Week when he serves as Honorary Chairman of the Police Foundation fundraiser at the Waldorf Tuesday night and as Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Wednesday.


BEST LINE OF THE WEEK
[from the New York Times, describing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first meeting with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who after opposing gun restrictions, offered to introduce an anti-gun bill]: “[R]ather than assuring him, the offer aroused suspicion that Ms. Gillibrand lacked conviction, a grievous flaw in the eyes of a man who prides himself on his willingness to stand up for principles whatever the cost.”

Like the two-term limit law.

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Copyright © 2010 Leonard Levitt