Call for Debate Over the Proposed “Legal Hackers” Trademark Registration

Written By John E. Grant  |  Future of Law  |  8 Comments

This is going to be the first of (at least) two posts I plan to make on this topic. As the title says, I am first and foremost calling for a healthy and open debate. I will set out the reasons for my own position on this matter in a later post. For now, I want to give background on why I am calling for this debate at all.

The term “Legal Hackers” is currently pending trademark registration with the USPTO. It was Published for Opposition on September 16, which means that there is a 30-day window from that date for anyone who believes they will be harmed by the trademark registration to formally oppose the mark. Anyone who is considering opposing the mark can also file a 30-day Extension of Time to Oppose at no charge which would extend the deadline for opposition (for the filer) until November 15.

The registrant of the “Legal Hackers” trademark is Legal Hackers LLC, a single-member LLC owned and managed by Phil Weiss by Phil Weiss and managed by Phil and three others (see Phil’s comment to this post). For those who don’t know Phil, he is one of the founders of the formal legal hackers movement, having been part of the group that started the NY Legal Hackers Meetup and an organizer of the April 2012 Legal Hackathon at Brooklyn Law School.

I want emphasize up front that I’ve got nothing but respect for Phil and the work he has done for the legal hackers movement. While the concept of “legal hacking” had been around for awhile, Phil and other early organizers have created some order out of what was a previously unorganized movement, and have done an incredible job encouraging and assisting other legal hackers groups to form around the world. I don’t know Phil personally, but by all accounts he is a good guy who has the best interests of the legal hackers community at heart.

That said, I am opposed to the idea that the term “Legal Hackers” should be granted federal trademark protection. In a nutshell, I believe that the “Legal Hacker” moniker should remain in the public domain and not be subject to the blessing, or withholding, of a single person or entity. To me, the notion of “Legal Hackers” as a proprietary brand runs counter to the whole ethos of the movement and threatens to stall it, or fragment it, or both.

To that end, I have filed an extension of time to oppose USPTO registration number 86247678 for the Legal Hackers trademark. This extension of time grants me (and only me) an additional 30 days to file my formal opposition. Others may file their own opposition or extension of time to oppose by submitting the proper forms with the USPTO.

My goal in filing my extension is to buy time for the larger legal hacker community to engage in a robust and rational debate. I believe the trademark is a bad idea, others may think it is better for the community as a whole. My opinion is not set in stone: whether or not I file a formal opposition will hinge largely on what I learn from this discussion.

I should also say that I have brought my concerns to Phil directly so this should not come as a “left field” attack. In fact I hope it doesn’t come as an attack at all so much as a respectful disagreement. But it is a disagreement on a matter that will have consequences for me and for the legal hacker community, therefore I think it is important that we have this discussion while there is still an opportunity to do something about it.

My proposed “rules” for the debate are simple:

  1. Keep it civil. There don’t seem to be any bad actors here, or even necessarily “bad” decisions. There are simply consequences, opportunities, and trade-offs that merit discussion.
  2. Keep it public. If you want to engage in the debate, and I encourage you to do so, please do it out in the open. If you have a blog, please use it to set forth your position on the topic and explain your reasons why you feel the way you do. Obviously you can also post comments to this or someone else’s blog if you are simply agreeing with or debating a specific point.
  3. Keep it visible. I propose using the #LegalHack hashtag to engage each other on Twitter since it already has the attention of a good portion of the legal hacking community.
  4. Bring solutions. Opinions are great, solutions are better. There could very well be some win-win opportunity out there that neither I nor Phil has thought of, so please don’t be shy about bringing a proposal to the table.

As I said, I will set forth my position in the next few days and I hope others will do the same. In the mean time, please feel free to let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post or via Twitter.

  • What about an open license to the TM Legal Hacker? Preventing it from going through the USPTO will be hard to do (BlockChain TM, for example is owned by a company called BlockChain that does wallet services). Further, someone who is NOT a legal hacker could move forward with the application, even if Phil does not. Would Phil be amenable to an open license so that we can keep it in the family?

    • I can’t speak for Phil/Legal Hackers LLC about an open license, but I think it certainly merits consideration. I do think there is a good argument that the mark does not merit USPTO registration because it is primarily descriptive. The act of “hacking” (and the existence of “hackers”) describes an activity that has been going on since long before the formal legal hackers movement came about. Adding “legal” to the term “hackers” focuses the activity, but still primarily describes it. I can’t speak to how this compares to the history of the term “BlockChain.”

  • John: There’s incorrect info here. I do not manage Legal Hackers LLC–it is controlled by 4 people, including myself. I do not have control of the company.

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