A Bad Cup of Joe

No one thought McGraw-Hill would make a federal case over the name Standard & Pours. Whoops.

Last week, The McGraw-Hill Company did something Pascale Hall never thought it would have the nerve to do: The company, which owns the financial-analysis company Standards & Poor's, filed a federal trademark infringement suit against Hall's South Side of Lamar coffee house-performance space Standard & Pours Coffee & Stocks. In fact, in the complaint filed August 7 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, McGraw-Hill makes several claims of infringement, including "unfair competition, injury to business reputation and trademark dilution." Because, absolutely, people are going to confuse the two. Because, absolutely, people are that stupid: Sorry, I came in for a credit rating, whadya mean you only serve coffee? Will McGraw-Hill sue Pascale Hall because her last name sounds suspiciously like "Hill," save for the one different vowel? The answer to that, and much more, after the jump.

We first mentioned that McGraw-Hill wasn't happy about Hall's choice of names--which she made, oh, three years back--in June, in a posting that has since accrued some 55 reader comments (which makes it the most remarked-upon item in the short history of this blog, easily). We followed that on July 6 with a news story, and the whole sordid affair ended up being covered by both KTVT-Channel 11 and WFAA-Channel 8. In short, Hall has owned and operated Standard & Pours in the basement the South Side lofts for three years, and during that time as a coffee shop and performance space, it has garnered both critical acclaim (The Dallas Morning News gave it much love in 2004, and we gave it a Best of Dallas award only last year) and an estimable following. Hall's even in talks with a few pro basketballers, whose names she declines to mention for good reason, to expand the franchise. But almost since opening the joint, she's been hounded by McGraw-Hill to change the name, lest anyone confuse her place with the people responsible for the S&P 500.

She got her first letter in December 2004--in which it said that even though everyone at McGraw-Hill knows she had no "malicious intent" when choosing the "clever play on words," they still wanted her to cease using the name Standard & Pours because "there is a likelihood that persons will believe that Standard & Poor's...is somehow connected with your business." She was "scared shitless," had her attorney contact the company and never got a response. Then came another cease-and-desist letter in February 2005, and Hall pretty much did nothing at all. But not so much: In April 2006 Hall got another letter, and this one really pissed her off, to the point where she started letting people know about her being hounded by McGraw-Hill. As she told the paper version of Unfair Park last month: "We don't want to go to court. People say it's not the name but what you do, and I have to disagree. We have a lot of recognition from the name, and when most of your advertising comes from word of mouth, changing the name really hurts you. I think we can co-exist, and they can do their stock indexes and we can do our coffee and we can all be happy, but they don't see it that way."

Clearly not. In the federal suit, attorneys for McGraw-Hill claims that since Hall's coffee shop "features numerous elements and activities designed to appeal to investors and stock market enthusiasts, such as broadcasts of television and radio programs on investments, stock market board games, and access to stock market indices such as the S&P 500," then clearly she's trying to "appeal to investors and stock market enthusiasts and target the same as potential customers." And if she's doing that, then clearly people will believe that Standard & Pours' "good and services emanate and/or are sponsored, licensed, endorsed, approved, authorized or somehow connected with McGraw-Hill or its Standard & Poor's business division, when they are not." The company also now claims that Hall "intentionally and willfully selected [her] mark in order to establish an identity" for her coffee shop "by simply appropriating the goodwill of McGraw-Hill's trademark and to confuse and mislead the public."

Not only does the company want Hall to change the name, but also to transfer her Web site address to McGraw-Hill's possession and "account for and pay over to McGraw-Hill all damaged sustained by McGraw-Hill and all profits realized by Defendants by reason of their unlawful acts alleged herein." They also want Hall to pay all courts costs, of course, because a company with $6 billion in annual revenue clearly needs whatever spare change it can shake out of a coffee-shop owner who was just being cute and clever. As they say, put on another pot; it's going to be a long fight. --Robert Wilonsky


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