Trying to claim the rights to a popular word or an expression that has been used as part of the human communicatory process since the dawn of time might sound ludicrous to some, insane to others and downright loathsome to remaining few. Most would agree that no one should own a product of the English language. There is an argument to be made that words are to be shared, not kept for profit. After all, if this sort of speech slavery were possible, George Costanza of “Seinfeld” might have had substantial legal grounds for taking possession of the saying “Pardon my French.” In the episode “The Soul Mate,” Costanza — infamous for living multiple lies on a daily basis — declares that he once told a woman he was responsible for coining the phrase. But cunning linguists still do not have a clue as to its origins, so by all accounts why should it not be his property?
Perhaps this is the logic behind MedMen’s latest plot to take over the world of weed. The Los Angeles-based cannabis firm is reportedly looking to land the trademark rights to the word “cannabis” to use on T-shirts and other merchandise. The company, which operates 19 cannabis dispensaries in three states, recently filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in hopes of enslaving the scientific term for marijuana. It is a development that could lead to the company collecting a check anytime the word is used in fashion. Some might see the move as a stroke of genius, while others are not likely to consider it anything other than a symptom of greed.
However, MedMen spokesman Daniel Yi says the company is just picking up where it left off last year when it successfully trademarked a cannabis leaf design. The logo now appears on clothing and other marketing materials. “The geometric leaf you see on our website and other collaterals is trademarked, so we are looking to extend the idea for the word ‘cannabis,’” Yi said, according to Marijuana Business Daily.
But there is a difference between trademarking a marijuana leaf logo and the word “cannabis,” says Florida trademark attorney Frank Herrera. The primary issue is that the company is not seeking to claim the rights to an artistic-version of the word, it wants to hijack the word itself and hold it for ransom.
Considering that the word cannabis is used every day in designs for various pieces of merchandise, trademark experts say the company could have some difficulty convincing Uncle Sam that it should be the primary owner.
“There are several (trademarks) that include cannabis for clothing, but they all are used in connection with other terms and/or are stylized,” Herrera said. “Simply attempting to register the word cannabis alone and not stylized (with logos or a design, for example) for clothing will not work, in my opinion.”
MedMen is well on its way to reaching infamy for taking bold leaps while claiming its spot in the cannabis space. Over the summer, the company inked an exclusive licensing deal with the owners of the Woodstock brand so it could begin branding pot-products with the music festival’s legendary bird-perched-on-guitar design.
At the time, MedMen co-owner and CEO Adam Bierman said the company “is all about pushing the boundaries and bringing about progressive change to make marijuana use part of the mainstream.”
Nevertheless, the cannabis community was less than impressed with the company’s attempt to reach the same kind of brand recognition that has taken other companies decades by simply buying the rights to a famous brand.
If there one thing cannabis purists will not abide is the commercialism of their precious plant. Try and cash in on the word “cannabis” and there could be a violent uprising or at bare minimum some angry social media posts. Yet, we live in the United States, where commercialism is the disease of the week, every week, and it is destined to affect the cannabis scene to higher degrees the more widespread marijuana legalization becomes. Someone smarter than the average street philosopher once said that “you can’t have it both ways.” We don’t think George Costanza had anything to do with this motto, but whoever did was onto something.
MedMen is flexing right now. The company recently made the most significant marijuana business transaction to date, dropping $682 million for a cannabis cultivation facility and retail outlet called PharmaCann. If this proves anything, it is that MedMen, which is still not sailing the sea of profitability, has the financial girth to play the game. Whether this deep-pocket power will allow it to assume exclusive trademark rights to the word “cannabis,” however, seems to be a stretch.
We should know in a manner of three months or so whether the company has a shot at securing the trademark.
TELL US, do you think MedMen should be able to trademark the word cannabis for its T-shirts?