Reader Elizabeth sent me a link to this yesterday: Speak Up for SAY.
In short, according to this website, a small company that makes educational speech and language materials for special needs children is being sued for trademark infringement.
Because they used the word "SAY" in some of their product names.
Now, my first reaction was to get right on Twitter and send out a terse yet expletive-laden tweet and include the link, but I hesitated, because we've all seen what can happen when you get all knee-jerky like that. You quickly find out you're woefully uneducated on the issue or grossly misinformed of the facts and gee, don't YOU feel like a reactionary asshole about it now.
So I stepped away from Twitter and went back to the website and dug in a little deeper. And thought about it a little more. And took a shower, just in case my own stench was getting in my way of seeing both sides of the issue.
And here's the thing: As a blogger, I deeply care about copyright and trademark protection. I've had my content scraped and plagiarized. A big famous national magazine once tried to launch a column called the Advice Smackdown. I've seen large (and small) companies treat my friends' Flickr accounts as their own personal royalty free stock photo source. I get that. I really do.
But I still don't get what Mattel is doing here.
Super Duper Publications serves autistic and speech-delayed children with educational games, cards, and therapy materials. Some of these materials -- BEING SPEECH & LANGUAGE RELATED -- used the word "Say" or the words "and Say" in their product titles. Mattel never cared, or noticed, or was even seemingly aware of this TREMENDOUS threat to their beloved "See N' Say" line of toys until Super Super applied for trademarking their own products, much like they'd applied for several uncontested trademarks in the past.
The legal wrangling began in 2004, and all hell appears to have broken loose. Super Duper was ordered to:
- Pay $1 million of its own profits to Mattel
- Pay $2.6 million in legal fees to Mattel
- Destroy $260,000 in already-printed catalogs that advertised the products with SAY in the title
- Destroy $500,000 worth of those products
- Give back one previously uncontested trademark that also included the word SAY
Look, maybe it would be one thing if we were talking about a product called a Mazhuzhuwhatzit Phone. And if Super Duper was selling something called a Mazhuzhuwhatzit Fone. And were stocking them two shelves down at Toys R Us. But we're talking about the word SAY. (Combined with the word AND!) Being used products that help kids learn to speak. That are therapy products for various developmental delays and disabilities and medical diagnoses, even if they're packaged as games and toys. And that are primarily sold online or via a catalog. (Mattel admitted in court that they suffered no actual loss of sales of their products.)
I've never used any of Super Duper's products. I'd honestly never heard of them before. Our early intervention programs usually provide links to a couple locally based companies for our therapy products and materials for us to use at home, though the products on Super Duper's website look just like the games and flash cards and visual tools that Noah's speech therapists and teachers incorporate into his sessions and school day. I also know for a fact we own a Farmer See N' Say toy and a ton of Mattel action figures. (Many of which we purchased even AFTER tossing out several Mattel products connected to the lead paint recall! Fun times!)
And I know this is a bit of a departure in topic for this column, but I've been thinking about this all day and reading more and more at the Stand Up for SAY website and wondering if I'm missing something, or if Mattel just flat-out deserves a good public slap for bullying a company that helps us help our kids.
I'm thinking it's the latter.
Image via Amy Storch