Back in December, the news broke that Café Hon owner Denise Whiting trademarked the Baltimore endearment "Hon." While we're not exactly thrilled with the idea, we wanted to understand what the law really meant. So we asked trademark lawyer James B. Astrachan what we can and can't do now.
Okay To Do
- Use Hon in personal art. This is an example of fair use under the law, Astrachan explains, because the art is protected by freedom of expression, which is strong enough to trump the law.
- Name your dog "Hon." This is another example of fair use, because, quite obviously, no one would confuse your dog with her goods and services (restaurant or retail store).
- Dress up like a Hon. This is fair use since it's expressive and, for the most part, for fun. "The more people that dress up like Hons, the gentler this city will be," Astrachan says.
- Create parody. Any kind of parody is protected by fair use. Since you're satirizing the subject, you obviously can't be the source—so there's no way someone would confuse you with Whiting herself.
- Say "Hon." Absolutely. "The term 'Hon' has been used so often, for so many years that it's not necessarily associated with her store," Astrachan says. "Waitresses will be saying it for years to come."
- Create a Hon company.
- While you can do this, Astrachan advises being careful. "Whiting could claim rights to a company that's a restaurant, retail store, or selling paper goods," he says.
- Have a Hon party. Astrachan said hosting a fundraiser might cause confusion, because Whiting has thrown Hon-themed events. The host would have to make it very clear that it's not related.
- Sell Hon T-shirts. There is risk involved here, and Whiting could claim rights. The more similar the font, logo, and design are to the restaurant's, the more the risk increases.
- Use "Hun" instead of "Hon." If you use "Hun" for a business reason, Whiting might make a case that the word is too similar to her trademark. But, Astrachan says, she would have to show a survey or evidence that enough people were confused by it.
- Use image of Hon for business. The MTA wanted to use images of Hons for an advertising campaign on their buses and had to go through Whiting to get approval. If the MTA needs approval from her, so, surely, does the average Joe.