Middle Earth Enterprises Attempts To Block Wine Importer From Using The Word 'Hobbit'

from the stop-wining dept

We've seen all kinds of strange trademark actions revolving around the works of Tolkien, including threats against holiday campsites and pubs. The dual threat of dumb in these disputes always ends up being both the protectionist aims against businesses that don't operate anywhere near the literary or theatrical realms in which Tolkien's works normally operate and the sketchy history of the term "hobbit" itself, with it being rather clear that Tolkien both didn't invent the word itself and actually based his hobbit characters on previous fictional works. This of course hasn't precluded anyone with any kind of ownership stake in rights associated with Tolkien from sending out threats to anyone and everyone that in any way uses the term.

Which brings us to Middle-Earth Enterprises, owner of some of the rights to Tolkien's works and owned by film producer Paul Zaentz, and its apparent opposition to a trademark application by a wine importer, because why the hell not?

A tall wife and her short husband are locked in a legal battle over whether they are allowed to have the word 'Hobbit' in the title of their wine business. Stuart and Elise Whittaker set up Giraffe and Hobbit, which imports wine from small vineyards in Provence, France, in the summer of 2014 to poke fun at the difference in their heights. But American company Middle-earth Enterprises, which owns the copyright to the word 'Hobbit', is trying to block the couple's attempt to register the company as a trademark.

Mr Whittaker said: "We applied for the trademark with the Intellectual Property Office, we decided on the name already, it had nothing to do with the Hobbit film or Lord of the Rings. It is a reference to the fact my wife is quite tall and I'm not so tall."
This is nearly the definition of when a term either becomes generic in nature or too broad to deserve wide trademark protection. In naming their company, the Whittakers weren't thinking about Tolkien. Hobbit meant "short person" to them, not "race of people from the The Lord of the Rings universe." When coupled with the fact that theirs is a wine business, having nothing to do with the film or literature industries, the opposition from Middle-Earth Enteprises leads us to a common mantra: this is not what trademark is for.

Par for the course, the opposition was carried out in the most irritating manner possible.
A couple of months after attempting to register their trademark, Giraffe and Hobbit, the couple were sent a Notice of Threatened Opposition from American firm The Saul Zaentz Company.

The 36-year-old added: "We got the Notice of Threatened Opposition the day before it was going to go through and a registered trademark."
The diminutive Whittaker goes on to note, correctly, that Tolkien admitted that he didn't come up with the term. This matters less in trademark terms than copyright, but is still an indication that the term is not unique or source-identifying. Meanwhile, it stretches credulity to think that Middle-Earth Enterprises could somehow show that there would be confusion at stake here. But, hey, just another day in the world of trademark bullying by someone associated with Tolkien.

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Filed Under: hobbit, tolkien, trademark, wine
Companies: giraffe and hobbit, middle earth enterprises

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  1. identicon
    Roady, 23 Mar 2016 @ 2:07am

    Honestly, I have never heard of anyone using the word "hobbit" without referring to the species as described in Tolkien's works.

    And those "previous works" mentioned in the wikipedia seem rather a weak claim, the word was hardly in common usage, seems more like offhand usage maybe once or twice.

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