Dan's Data letters #148
(page 3)Publication date: 27-July-2005.
Last modified 16-Jun-2013.
Magnets can alter the body's physiology, albeit temporarily. I was once offered some human guinea pig work at the "Centre For the Mind" at Sydney University. This involved using a strong magnet to induce "savant" like abilities - think "Rain Man".
It was explained to me that they were simulating brain damage with the magnet, so I passed on that one. But I wish I hadn't now: PDF.
Well, sure, if what they say is true. Their Publications page has plenty of newspaper reports, letters to periodicals and other publications not pertinent to the savantism-inducing claim; the only meat there is this PDF of a real study published in a real peer-reviewed journal. Unfortunately, they tested only 11 people and didn't find much of anything; some vague changes in drawing behaviour, a few people feeling a bit weird, and two out of eleven people getting better at proofreading. Which certainly doesn't disprove the hypothesis, but is also a darn long way from confirming it.
Transcranial stimulation, to be fair, does apparently do something, and the claims of it being able to temporarily induce autistic-savant states may yet turn out to be true. Right now the evidence is lacking, though, and TMS definitely has nothing to do with the usual alt-med woo-woo magnetic therapy products, because it uses very strong rapidly oscillating fields.
I use the name Stealth [dictionary word redacted for the sake of privacy] in online games. I figured that was a pretty original name, so it stuck. I use the same name for my ISP username, e-mail addresses, etc. One day I registered the domain stealth-[that word again].com. It just links to my Optus webspace [here in Australia] where I have some links, and keep some files handy. I'm not selling anything.
So this afternoon I got a letter in the mail from a company in the USA called "STEALTH". Guess what they want? They found out my company (I am unemployed and live with my parents...) is using the STEALTH mark as a "corporate name, trademark, tradename, domain name, and/or service mark". There's a lot of legal speak and basically I think it is just to scare me off and give them the domain.
The say I am required to:
- discontinue all use of the trademark
- turn over all materials bearing the trademark
- provide an accounting of all sales made of the bearing of such mark
...or else they will seek damages for loss of sales and profits, and attorneys' fees.
Then there are a few attachments of other companies' replies to similar letters, where they caved in right away. Then some legal bits at the end. The letterhead shows their Web page to be www.rentamark.com and it seems they send out a lot of this type of letter. It also says "LICENSING STEALTH BRAND PRODUCTS & SERVICES SINCE 1985".
Now they want me to call my attorney and sort it out. I don't have a lawyer. Do you know any free ones that could help me out here? I wouldn't mind defending myself if I never had to pay anything. I'd ring them up and see what they want, but its over in Chicago, home of the Jerry Springer show.
So my questions are:
Is this for real?
Should I get an attorney?
Will I have to cave?
Do they have a case?
Where would I have to go to court?
I swapped some e-mails with this correspondent - whom I'll call Stealth Elephant, though that's not actually what he calls himself - more than a year ago, and didn't think it was likely to fascinate enough people to be worth putting in a letters column. But I'll be darned if, the other day, I didn't discover that Leo Stoller, the man responsible for scaring this poor kid and his family, has pretty much made a crusade out of it. Scattershot pseudo-legal nastygrams fired off all over the world, insisting on a cut of the action from anybody who has the temerity to use some, you know, words. And some major companies have apparently, amazingly, actually settled with the guy. Those attachments to the threatening letter pointing out that da businesses up and down da street have poichased his, uh, insurance, so given the terrible flammability of your own establishment and da weakness of your kneecaps it'd probably be a good idea if you did too, capische, appear to be genuine.
This whole affair is just so darn trippy that I think it deserves to be brought to a wider audience.
So here's the gist of what I said to Stealth Elephant.
I Am Not A Lawyer, so if following my advice results in anybody reading this spending the rest of their life married to whichever other inmate has the most cigarettes, so be it.
That said: These people are idiots. You're in no danger.
You're not doing any of the stuff they're accusing you of, so it's pretty easy for you to comply with most of their demands. Clearly, they just hoover whois databases with a word-list, and fire off nastygrams to every contact address they can get a match for.
The wisest thing to do in "Help! Some nut says he's suing me!" situations is, generally, nothing. Ignore them and they go away.
Where's the fun in that, though?
Send the legal eagles an e-mail, and CC it to whatever contacts you can find for the actual alleged "STEALTH" company (which, of course, has no real separate existence). Head it WITHOUT PREJUDICE (which is basically just I'm-a-legal-badass-don't-mess-with-me bluff, but also provides some insulation against what you say in the e-mail being used in subsequent legal proceedings, though in international dealings like this it may be completely meaningless), and tell them that you're not using the name in a commercial capacity, there's no chance of confusion between your site and any of their products (not that they actually seem to have any, besides legal letters), and that their company isn't called "Stealth Elephant" and there are plenty of other *stealth* domains out there, both commercial and noncommercial:
...most of which are no doubt similarly irrelevant to whatever it is that Stoller's doing. There's no grounds for trademark disputes between people who aren't in the same business; that's why Apple Records and Apple Computer coexisted happily for so long (until iTunes...), for instance. You can't claim general ownership of a generic word like "Stealth". You can sue people for any old reason, but there's only a chance of victory if you can demonstrate that they've done something to you, and just calling their thing-irrelevant-to-your-thing by a similar generic name doesn't make the cut.
If Stoller was filing some kind of WIPO dispute over ownership of the domain name, that'd be one thing, but instead he seemed to be threatening to go to some local court over it. Yes, Australian courts may act on the rulings of US courts, so if Stealth Elephant were to ignore them, and then they went to court, they'd get a default judgement against him, because he didn't show up. Then, he could end up being busted locally. But Stoller's claim is so silly that no judge who actually looked into it would take it seriously. Rentamark can present no evidence that Stealth Elephant is even in business, much less that he sells something similar to what they sell. Particularly seeing as they actually don't seem to sell anything at all under the name Stealth. Then again, maybe that's the grounds for their claim - competition in the selling of nothing under a particular name. Help me out here, people.
Oh, but it gets better. Rentamark would also, in my humble opinion of course, appear to be into questionable medicine (and don't know how to use apostrophes or capital letters). The more I wandered, aghast, through the bizarre Rentamark site, the more sure I felt that they wouldn't actually recognise a lawyer if one danced naked on their desk.
So far as I can tell through the fog of bad grammar, the above-linked sub-site sells certificates that say the holder is a member of a professional organisation, including organisations that suggest the members are medical professionals. It would appear that anyone with a credit card can buy one.
Further evidence that Stoller is, um, a very independent thinker, can be found here.
These are "Famous Marks"? These?!
"Stealth" is legible, but a number of the "Famous Marks" are broken images, and they've all apparently been 3D-ified by a work experience kid using a shareware program in 1992.
Rentamark also claim lots of generic terms, and terms that unquestionably belong to someone else ("The Twilight Zone" here, to quote just one example, which belongs to New Line or Paramount or someone today; there are many others).
My attempts to comprehend what Leo Stoller actually thinks he's doing are causing my mind to seize. I thought he was just incompetent at first, but the more I looked at his site, the clearer it became to me that he's actually seriously deranged. You'd have to have major brain damage to want to buy any of his products or services.
Now, it's cruel to make fun of the mentally ill, and I can't imagine how Leo Stoller could possibly do the things he does if he didn't have a 'roo or two loose in the top paddock. But when nutty people set out to make other people's lives miserable, and actually seem to be succeeding, something should be done. If that something involves a straitjacket, then so be it.
My major point of flabbergastitude is how, on the deity of your choice's green earth, any real company in the world could give in to a Stoller-gram.
He's apparently never won a lawsuit - what a surprise - but he forced Northrop Grumman into a settlement! This one company could sterilise half of Europe if it put its mind to it, but it abandoned (a small amount of) real profit to appease Rentamark!
I suppose this is just the usual legal mathematics, where BigCorp decides it's cheaper for them to settle than to pursue the case, but it's still like discovering that the smelly guy ranting on the corner has received a gilt-edged letter from the Vatican conceding that yes, the Popes have actually been ordained by a cabal of Satanic Freemasons since the year 1047.
OK, there are some worse examples of lawyer-assisted sociopathy out there, but Leo's still definitely in the running for the How In Holy Heck Can You Look In The Mirror In The Morning Trophy.
Aaaanyway, Stealth Elephant got back to me with the news that his mum reckoned he should give in to Stoller's demands, and expressed his intention to give the man a call. He also provided me with scans of the three pages of the letter, which I am pleased to present in suitably anonymised GIF form here, here and here; any legal eagles out there may find its arguments insightful. Or not.
In response, I told Stealth Elephant not to give in to a damn thing until he actually received some legal paperwork from Rentamark. The letter he had was not a summons, a subpoena, or indeed anything else but an autographed piece of toilet paper from a nutball. I predicted that he would never receive a summons from them and, so far as I can see, my prediction was exactly correct. The "contested" domain is still up.
Anybody who finds themselves in a situation like this - as I myself have, on three occasions (and subsequently there was this whole thing; the Mannatech booster here didn't really count) - should be advised that until such time as you do get served with a summons (which, in most countries at least, can't happen by normal mail; it'd have to be at least receipted delivery, where you go to the post office and sign for it), you have nothing at all to worry about. Many of the more obnoxious kind of loonies are very quick to threaten lawsuits, but they're very unlikely to follow through.
And yet... despite all of this, despite the fact that Rentamark clearly have no fair case at all in any of their complaints, despite the fact that their site says that they're the exclusive licensors for half of the English language, despite the fact that the site looks like something on Geocities in 1993... apparently, sometimes, it works. I'm mystified. It's like watching someone flap their arms and fly.
Anyway, getting back to the relative sanity of normal trademark disputes, lots of people own the trademark "Stealth" for all sorts of things, in the USA and other countries. You can do your own search for it at, for instance, the USPTO page here.
When I did that search, the first result (of the many) told me that a company based in the Czech Republic owned the US trademark "Stealth" as it applies to "sprocket wheels and transmission systems for land vehicles, particularly sprocket wheels for motorcycle chains". So if someone else started making "Stealth Sprockets" in the USA, the holder of the trademark would have reason to sue them, and would probably win.
If someone started selling "Stealth Dump Truck Conversion Kits", though, the Stealth Sprockets people wouldn't care - but the holder of trade mark 78419162 probably would. Similarly, if someone started selling "Stealth Garbage Trucks", the dump-truck people might sue on the grounds that it's a product that could easily be confused with their own (or someone else might sue because they already sell Stealth Garbage Trucks, a few of which wouldn't go amiss in my suburb early on Friday mornings).
People can also sue over the look of a trademark, whether or not it's got a word in it that's the same as theirs. If you took the yellow McDonald's M, turned it upside down, and started a business called W-Burger under that sign, you'd get sued. Since Stealth Elephant has no logo, though - and the only "Stealth" logo the Rentamark people have is comically awful, and unregistered in any case - this does not apply, either.
Although many people make Stealth This or Stealth That, nobody owns the word "Stealth" outright. In fact, the only mention of Rentamark in the whole USPTO database is mark serial number 75787559, where they've registered their own name.
This could just have something to do with Rentamark's zero-lawsuits-won record, eh?
You can also, by the way, search the Australian trademarks database online. Lots and lots of Stealths there, too.
To my faithful readers who've ploughed through this monstrous screed, I apologise for the lack of a snappy punchline. But there is a useful nugget of information to be taken from all this.
Much more often, though, this kind of nonsense is the legal equivalent of shouting unintelligibly at strangers on the street, and is, as I've mentioned less longwindedly before, no more dangerous to the startled recipient.
If some weirdo sends you a legal threat, feel free to have it framed. Until you receive real paperwork from a real court, though, don't let it worry you none.
(Around the time this page first went up, Leo got his very own Wikipedia article. A while later, to general celebration, he went broke. I've replaced various links above with archive.org ones to preserve the insanity. I've also since written this, about what to do if you receive an actual nastygram from an actual lawyer.)