#3. NBC Tries to Stop Letterman from Numbering Things
The battle to secure the coveted role of the host of NBC's The Tonight Show didn't start with the recent war between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien -- in the '90s, the show was rocked by an arguably stupider scandal. When Johnny Carson (ask your parents) retired in 1992, his heir apparent was David Letterman, who had been hosting Late Night on NBC for years, but he was passed over in favor of Jay Leno.
The rest, as they say, is history: Leno took the reins of The Tonight Show, and Letterman found a home at CBS, where he created The Late Show With David Letterman. Then the two men settled into their now-familiar routines: Letterman spent the next two decades making jokes in the form of lists (which we at Cracked can't fault him for), and Leno spent the next two decades making tired jokes about ... having a really big chin. Or something. Look, we've never actually watched Leno.
Half of us are too cool. The rest can't stay up that late.
But things almost got nasty, and we mean on a legal level. Upon his move to CBS, NBC immediately claimed copyright ownership of Letterman show cornerstones like "Top Ten Lists" and "Stupid Pet Tricks." This meant, in effect, that Letterman wasn't able to take his most popular bits with him and wasn't allowed to do anything that involved ... reading lists? Or having animals on the show, we guess?
As the controversy wore on, it became clear that NBC didn't even know what they would sue for, exactly. NBC exec Robert C. Wright told the press, "There are certain intellectual property issues that do not travel with Dave. They can certainly do things like that. But they can't do those things." Well, that clears it up.
You'd understand this technical language if you'd gone to law school like you were supposed to.
Meanwhile, NBC got mauled by the court of public opinion before they even managed to take legal action. Letterman joked that The Late Show was going to be called The Stolen Intellectual Property Show. Leno claimed that Dave wasn't allowed to use the letters N, B, or C or the name "Letterman" on the air. Even CBS exec Jeff Sagansky managed to be funny when Major League Baseball moved from his network to NBC. "We feel," he said, "we have a proprietary right to the nine-inning baseball game."
In any case, Letterman changed the title of the "Top Ten List" bit to "Late Show Top Ten," and kept doing the exact same thing he had been, and NBC didn't attempt any further action. It's almost like, we don't know, it was all just about them being petty dicks about the whole thing.
#2. Only Klondike Bars Are Allowed to Use Blue Ink
Steven Mark Needham/FoodPix/Getty Images
The Klondike Bar is a little gift from the Asgardian gods produced by Unilever, who, unlike Haagen-Dazs, are a real Dutch company. Rather than take advantage of their European origins to sell the concept of cold, they use the name "Klondike," the color blue, and an image of a polar bear to indicate "Hey, consumers! This product is cold!" Y'know, in case the fact that it's sitting in a freezer isn't enough of a hint. After going to all that effort, they dusted their hands and decided that nobody should ever be able to use these concepts again.
They co-owned the "spiked circle" concept with a certain Mr. Lee.
Unfortunately for the makers of Klondike, Kraft Foods sat up in the early 1980s and said, "Hmm, consumers seem to enjoy ice cream wrapped in chocolate. I wonder if we could get in on that." After coming up with the name "Polar B'ar" (marketing guys are geniuses), Kraft chose to put a polar bear on the package and color it blue. Because, y'know, cold. Naturally, this didn't sit well with Klondike, who were under the impression that they owned the color blue.
Notably, they had a blue house with a blue window. Blue was the color of all that they wore.
No, Klondike didn't succeed in trademarking one-sixth of the rainbow. Blue was ruled to be a "functional color" for frozen food, in that it implied "cold" to consumers. In other words, Klondike simply made the connection that millions before it have made between blue and cold. As it turns out, there are certain things people won't do for a Klondike Bar, including letting them stake a claim on a large chunk of the visible light spectrum. Nevertheless, Klondike came out on top, because nobody has ever heard of Polar B'ars to this day.
#1. Monster Cable Claims to Have Invented Monsters
As we've previously discussed, Monster Cable is a company notorious for charging hundreds of dollars for HDMI cables that are, by definition, no better than a $2 piece of copper scraped off the floor of Newegg's warehouse. So the question is, how do they keep people shelling out for their products? The answer, of course, is the same way certain wineries get consumers to spend $300 on a bottle of wine that tastes exactly the same as a $3 bottle of Thunderbird: with mountains upon mountains of marketing bullshit, making sure you know and remember their brand name.
Marketers create value from nothing. They're the true producers among us.
Unfortunately for Monster, they managed to pick one of the most obvious, overused brand names ever. They were far from the first (or last) business to recognize that the word "Monster" sounded totally badass, at least to people with tiny imaginations -- which made things hard for them when they moved to permanently sear their name into the public's consciousness. And by that we mean Monster moved to sue every other business that ever used the name "Monster." Among them:
- Monster Energy Drinks
- Monster Mini Golf
- Monster Transmission, an auto garage in Florida
- The Discovery Channel (for airing a show called Monster Garage )
- The Chicago Bears (for going by the nickname "Monsters of the Midway")
- Fenway Park (for having "Monster Seats")
- Bally Gaming (for selling "Monster Slots" machines)
And the icing on the cake was their attempt to go after the Walt Disney Company. Why? For making the movie Monsters, Inc. All together, there have been almost 200 legal battles.
Nowhere as awesome as the "200 monster battles" we'd hoped for.
The funny thing about trademarks is that they're market-specific. If you sell cables and trademark your brand name, that only means no other cable companies can use it. It doesn't mean nobody else can ever use it to describe anything. That's the good news.
The bad news, for the people being sued, anyway, is that when you can sell $2 worth of copper for $100, you have a lot of money to afford an army of lawyers. While Monster has rarely won the lawsuits it's filed, it's cost its opponents enormous amounts in legal fees and wasted countless hours of court time.
Not surprisingly, though, after meeting with Disney's even bigger army of lawyers, Monster sheepishly declared that there had been "no trademark infringement." Go figure.
Luke T. Harrington blogs at the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism and tweets over at the Twittersphere.
Related Reading: Hypocrisy and copyright law go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Just ask the man who sponsored SOPA and stole someone else's photos for his website. Of course, copyright lunacy extends well beyond the Internet -- the NFL sues basically everybody who uses the name "Super Bowl" without permission. The law is a harsh mistress. That fact will be driven home even harder by reading these horrific end-user license agreements you've already accepted.