Hon: Storm in a teacup?

The word “hon” (=honey) has been part of Baltimore, Maryland’s lexicon for decades, and it’s an inherent part of the city’s working-class roots.  But now locals have learned their favorite term of endearment has been trademarked for commercial use by a local businesswoman, and some are protesting the co-opting of what they say is a “Baltimore thing.”

You can read or listen to the story at “Baltimoreans to Businesswoman: Not So Fast , Hon

If an entrepreneur appropriating “public domain IP” were reported from anywhere in the developing world, there would be a lot of action. When a UK company tried to trademark the Kenyan word kikoi (common name for a skirt or wrap), a coalition of NGOs filed an objection and the application was subsequently rejected.”Kikoi TM case

Bruce Goldfarb, a Baltimore blogger, has written at length on the subject in The Hon Manifesto.  He believes that:

Whiting’s claim to exclusive commercial rights to “hon” unreasonably inhibits speech and restrains business.

And that:

Denise Whiting does not have a valid trademark on “hon.” She is a bully, trampling the linguistic commons.

What is particularly interesting about this case is that public outrage has been channeled through a variety of social media, and a Facebook event is in the works.  But Denise Whiting has only been granted protection for the word in four categories (retail gift shops, paper goods, clothing and restaurant services) and the local angst may be a storm in a teacup.

Post written by Peter Bloch

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4 responses to “Hon: Storm in a teacup?

  1. You seem to have missed some important points on a story that has been raging in Baltimore for more than a month. The issue isn’t just that this woman has trademarked “Hon,” but she’s using the word in its generic meaning as a term of endearment and not a brand name for a business, product or service. She is selling stickers, mugs and t-shirts with “Hon” printed on them and has said that she will “sue the pants off” anybody else who does.

    She sent a cease-and-desist letter to the owners of a store called
    Thanks, Hon! (http://northbaltimore.patch.com/articles/letter-demanded-shop-stop-using-hon) and a women’s field hockey team named The Hons. There may be others. Further, according to the Honfest “rules and regulations” (http://www.honfest.net/_downloads/rules%20and%20regulation%2009.doc) no vendor may use Hon. Or sell cats-eye glasses. Or, reportedly, flamingos. A Honfest in which nobody else can use Hon.

    I have no problem with the trademark for Cafe Hon or Honfest or Hontown. But selling the word Hon and threatening anybody else who uses it? Nope. That isn’t going to work.

  2. Proud Baltimorean

    Nice article, but what would be your opinion of the validity of the registered HON trademark if the following were true:

    1. Denise Whiting’s new attorney publicly admitted that she overreached.
    2. Denise Whiting sent a cease-and-desist letter to a local retail shop named Thanks, Hon! in 2005 which sold no products with the word HON on it or offered any services. After they refused to change the name of their retail shop, Whiting informed them that she would not pursue legal action if she sold her HON merchandise in their store. They refused to sell her mechandise and she did not pursue legal action.
    3. The 2005 letter was sent before Denise Whiting had a retail shop or a federal trademark.
    4. Denise Whiting was aware of numerous people offering in commerce clothing and other items with the word HON on it prior to and after the issuance of the federal HON trademark.
    5. Denise Whiting applied for the federal HON trademark in 2006 representing that she knew of no other users notwithstanding actual and imputted knowledge of the other users.
    6. Denise Whiting infomed the MTA, a government agency, that her federal HON trademark would cover use of the word HON in an advertising campaign designed to promote public transportation.
    7. Denise Whiting stated that she intended to use her federal trademark to extract things which she wanted from the City of Baltimore.
    8. Denise Whiting publicly stated that she would sue the pants off anyone who put the word HON on merchandise in her classes and offered it for sale
    9. The majority of people who hear or use the word HON do not associate it with Denise Whiting or any of her establishments.
    10. The word “Hon” is so common that it is used a term of endearment not only in Baltimore, but in other states.
    11. Denise Whiting or her original attorney publicly stated that if Baltimore’s tourism bureau wanted to adapt its slogan from “Get in on it” to “Get in on it, Hon,” or something like that, it would have to negotiate with Whiting.

    Does any of this affect your opinion?

  3. Thanks for the comments. I agree. It is quite clear that Ms. Whiting is a bully and is way out of line in trying to enforce rights that she does not have. This could easily be resolved by engaging an IP lawyer to represent the interests of Baltimore and Baltimoreans. Given the level of public interest, I would think that a local law firm would take this on a pro bono basis and could firmly establish the limits of the rights granted to Whiting. There may even be a case for an appeal to overturn the grant of rights. I apologize for my “storm in a teacup” reference; this was prompted by a) the frequent appropriation of public domain descriptors in the South and b) the fact that this can easily be resolved. As stated “Denise Whiting’s new attorney publicly admitted that she overreached”. She did indeed!

  4. The Hampden natives never felt welcome or wanted to patronize her establishment. She catered to tourists and people who did not live in the neighborhood or were new neighborhood residents. She looked down her nose at all of us Old Hampden residents from her arrival in Hampden. I saw another person ask this question and make this statement:
    There is a reason why she is so disliked in Hampden. What other business owner on The Avenue is so disliked?
    She has NOT been a friend to Old Hampden and Old Hampden never really liked Cafe Hon or Denise Whiting. We are thrilled that she has shown her hand. She doesn’t surprise us as we always knew she was a rat and now everybody knows she is a rat.

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