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Muhammad Ali now suing Kobo over “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” slogan

It’s probably a bogus lawsuit, though.

Muhammad Ali Enterprises LLC, owned by the retired boxer, are currently suing Kobo over Kobo’s use of the phrase “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in last month’s NYTimes advert. This was the advert for the new Kobo Touch, and you can probably guess why they used it.

The slogan and Ali’s name was the most prominent wording on the advertising page, and underneath the expression, according to the complaint, the ad read: “Lightweight. Powerful. Intuitive. The new Kobo eReader Touch Edition. Just in time for Father’s Day.”

I said that I think this lawsuit is bogus, and while I’m not a lawyer I can do basic research. The particular way that Kobo used the trademarked phrase does not appear to be covered by any of Muhammad Ali’s trademarks. There are 4 trademarks, not one, and none cover electronics or digital publishing.

Here’s the important point, folks. A trademark doesn’t give you control of all ways a slogan can be used; it only lets you control the slogan in specific circumstances.

For example, Amazon have a trademark on the word Kindle, and that trademark only covers certain uses of the word (digital publishing, gadgetry, etc). Lots of other people also have trademarks on the word Kindle, and each trademark covers a different use.

I looked carefully at the trademarks filed by Muhammad Ali and I do not see that Kobo violated one. The trademarks seem to cover 2 things; the first is motivation speaking and the other is collectibles (pens, clothing, ashtrays, etc). I don’t see any way that the Ali trademarks include using the slogan to promote a gadget.

Of course, what really matters here is what the lawyers can convince the judge.


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Correcter July 15, 2011 um 10:56 am

Duh, have you ever heard of right of publicity

Nate Hoffelder July 15, 2011 um 10:59 am

Yes, but that’s not covered by trademarks. It’s an entirely different issue and I don;t think it’s part of the lawsuit.

Correcter July 15, 2011 um 1:15 pm

Oh but it is. Check it out for yourself. There are multiple counts.

If link doesn’t work Google the case after SDNY

Nate Hoffelder July 15, 2011 um 1:48 pm

Thanks for posting that, but I’m not sure that it says that Kobo violated the publicity rights.

The complaint says that Ali’s corporation own the publicity rights, yes, but it doesn’t actually seem to accuse Kobo of violating them.

Correcter July 15, 2011 um 1:17 pm


here is the rest of link chopped off. I have no interest in the case by the way, I just think you have to deal in facts not speculation.

Correcter July 15, 2011 um 3:45 pm

Each count in the complaint, and each numbered allegation are all part of the harm alleged and each must be responded to by the defendant, or be taken as fact. Moreover, re the trademarks, Ali could have common law rights to support his case, he does not have to rely on a specific registration. This is IP basics which every person providing media would do well to know. To proceed otherwise is kind of, well, Bogus…..

Nate Hoffelder July 15, 2011 um 4:13 pm

And that point only says that the corporation own the publicity rights; it does not say that Kobo violated the publicity rights.

And if you’re going to nitpick me, well, at least I’m willing to use my real name.

Kobo Settled Ali’s Trademark Lawsuit in Time to be Sold to Rakuten – The Digital Reader November 11, 2011 um 2:00 pm

[…] might recall that back in July Muhammad Ali enterprises sued Kobo over a full page ad that they took out in the NYTimes. Kobo had […]

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