4:32pm

Tue May 17, 2011
Planet Money

'Stetson® Hats Suck'

Intellectual property: always good for a laugh.

A while back, the Gene Weingarten included the phrase "put on a Stetson" in his Washington Post column.

The column apparently prompted a response from the John B. Stetson Co. demanding a correction — because Weingarten failed to note that "Stetson" is trademarked.

In his latest column, Weingarten writes:

The correction you are seeking, and which I now solemnly herewith deliver under the implied threat of a trademark-infringement lawsuit, is that "Stetson" is the name of your company and not a generic term for a hat. You further demand that all future references to "Stetson" contain a little R in a circle, like this: Stetson®. Okay. Done, and done.

Stetson® hats suck.

In an online chat this morning, Weingarten showed a bit more sympathy, and explained why the John B. Stetson Co. would bother to write him.

Companies can indeed lose their trademark if they let it become a generic word, according to Weingarten.

Here are some products that once were trademarks and no longer are: aspirin, butterscotch, heroin, zipper, Phillips head screw, yo-yo, pogo stick, thermos.

Here are some companies that have successfully held on to their trademarks by aggressively doing what Stetson is doing: Kleenex®, Band-Aid®, Plexiglas®, Velcro®, LEGO®, and Xerox®.

So what is Stetson really doing here with their pissy little letter to me? It turns out it's not for me at all, really. It was a letter for their files. It's so that years from now, if some other company tries to market a cowboy hat and call it a Stetson®, they will be able to show that they had not been indifferent to this, and had taken steps to preserve their trademark.

More from Planet Money on intellectual property:

* Planet Money's quest to trademark "Money Honey"

* "Yoga Wars: India Blocks Patents On Poses"

* "From Acapulco Gold To Albino Rhino: The Marijuana Trademark Land Rush"

Hat tip: Romenesko Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.