Intellectual Property Litigation

Pro Se Plaintiff Beats Back Trump Org in Trademark Battle Over iTrump Music App

After a contentious six-year legal battle, the Trump Organization and its phalanx of high-priced lawyers have been beaten down by 40-year-old San Francisco music teacher, Tom Scharfeld. Scharfeld developed a few apps to allow iPhone users to replicate playing musical instruments on their devices. He developed iBones to simulate trombone playing and iTrump to simulate trumpet playing. So in 2010, he registered the two marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and put the two apps on iTunes for download at $2.99 apiece.

Then along came Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. Even though they are not in the app business or the music business or the music app business, they filed petitions to try and block and cancel the USPTO’s registration of the iTrump trademark. They claimed that while they were not in the same business, the marks still hurt the prestigious and famous Trump brand “built over many years for everything from buildings to books to the TV show, ‘The Apprentice.'” With little or no money to invest in fighting the Goliath, Scharfeld represented himself. Through discovery battles and motion after motion, Scharfeld established that the word “trump” is a known and accepted substitute for the word “trumpet” and pointed out to the USPTO its uses as such in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and even the Bible itself. In 2013, he won some early rounds and Trump Org started to back down from their attempts to cancel his mark.

But Scharfeld didn’t stop there. Upset at how much time and effort he had invested in fighting their attempts to cancel his mark without any legal basis to do so, Scharfeld took aim at some of Trump’s other trademarks and filed counterclaims to cancel those. He pointed out that Trump rarely used or defended the marks. Scharfeld eventually won rulings that canceled some of Trump’s trademark registrations and forced him to withdraw another. Bloodied and beaten, in July of this year, Trump Org walked away from the last remaining issue and folded their tents and went home, having lost or abandoned every claim and defense they brought.

Kudos to Scharfeld, an MIT graduate, for taking this on pro se and winning a long and difficult battle against powerful and skilled opponents.He is quoted in a Bloomberg article about the case as saying that “the fight has taken its toll. He said he’s been unable to market the app in the way he wanted, but now he can focus: ‘I have people who use it for fun, and I have people who use it as a tool,’ he said. ‘They’re still selling.'” Indeed they are – I’m not an iPhone user, but if you want to download the app you can get it here

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