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BellSouth Attacks 'Bellster'
Sends out lawyergrams to thwart upstart
by Karl Bode 10:40AM Monday Jan 31 2005
BellSouth apparently doesn't like Jeff Pulver (Vonage co-founder and VoIP pioneer) using the name "Bellster" for his new PSTN phone sharing application (See FAQ). As per Jeff's blog, he's received a fax formally requesting he discontinue "all use of Bell as part of any claimed trademark, service mark, source indicator, corporate name or domain name immediately" and "destroy all tangible material on which this infringing usage appears." Jeff and our forum members discuss the problem in our VoIP forum.

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AtomicZero

join:2004-11-24
West Palm Beach, FL

1 edit

Change your name

I do think he could have been more original

micl
Visit Lovely Downtown Port Starboard
Premium
join:2001-10-25
Silver Spring, MD

Re: Change your name

said by AtomicZero:

I do think he could have been more original
Why? Froma marketing perspective, with the publicity BST's nuisance suit could potentially generate for this, why not!
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AtomicZero

join:2004-11-24
West Palm Beach, FL

Re: Change your name

c'mon Bellster? that like me opening up a burger shack and calling it Berger King or Burger King -- uh--ster yeah! Burger Kingster that's the ticket.
bogey7806

join:2004-03-19
Here
kudos:1

Re: Change your name

Nah...Burger Kong. Keeps the initials and has a semi-independant name.

quanta
Premium
join:2002-05-07
Toronto, ON

Re: Change your name

How about Kantacky Fried Chicken!

micl
Visit Lovely Downtown Port Starboard
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join:2001-10-25
Silver Spring, MD

Re: Change your name

I'm sorry, but Bell South does not have a lock (whether they think they do or not) on the word "BELL".
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Pathfinder
Dazed Confused
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Mount Vernon, NY
Reviews:
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1 recommendation

Re: Change your name

said by micl:

I'm sorry, but Bell South does not have a lock (whether they think they do or not) on the word "BELL".
You sure? »www.bell.com/resources.htm
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Taget

join:2004-07-29

Re: Change your name

Kennedy Fried Chicken does have better food than Kentucky Fried Chicken. Not that it is exactly a difficult accomplishment.

WhyADuck
Premium
join:2003-03-05
kudos:1

Re: Change your name

In one of the communities along the Lake Michigan shoreline there is a place called Cobb's Chicken, which is locally known for having really good fried chicken. A few years after they opened, a "Col. Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken" franchise went up across the street. Cobb's response was to put up a sign that said, "Why settle for kernals when you can have Cobb's?"

Cobb's is still there (and still doing a booming business during the summer tourist months at least), while KFC moved down the road a mile or so!

WhyADuck
Premium
join:2003-03-05
kudos:1
Well, to sort of summarize what I said in the VoIP forum, I do not believe this is a clear-cut case at all, and in fact I believe if it ever goes to trial BellSouth will lose. I say that for these reasons:

1. BellSouth does not have the exclusive right to use the name "Bell" - it is shared by many companies, as the site you mentioned shows. Only the actual "Bell" trademark owner can bring a lawsuit - if BellSouth is simply considered a licensee, they may not even have standing to bring a suit.

2. Pulver is not calling his company "Pulver Bell" or "Free World Bell" or something like that. He has created a new word, "Bellster." Now consider the following:

Goodyear and Goodrich (tires)
Broadvox and Broadvoice (VoIP)
Vonage and CallVantage (VoIP)

Of the above three, only the latter is currently the subject of litigation. Goodyear and Goodrich are VERY similar (to the point that several years ago, Goodrich ran a series of ads that in essence said, "Look in the sky - see the blimp? We're the OTHER guys") yet both have kept their names.

One has to wonder, would Bellsouth still have felt free to sue if Pulver had left out one "l" (i.e., "Belster") - the pronunciation would be the same but the printed name would not include the four letters "bell." The problem here is that "Bell" is a generic word, which is exactly why companies like Taco Bell can co-exist, and why nowadays companies tend to create totally new words that are not derivatives of known English words ("Verizon" is a good example). I imagine that one reason that Goodyear and Goodrich were allowed to co-exist is because nobody can trademark just the the word "good", it is a word in common English usage. Unfortunately for BellSouth, so is "Bell" - the Liberty Bell predated the Bell System by over a century!

3) I also think that there is an excellent case to be made here for "trademark dilution". I discussed this in greater detail in the VoIP forum, but it is very possible to lose a trademark in the United States. Consider the word "aspirin" - in the United States aspirin is a generic name for all brands of acetylsalicylic acid, even though it started out as a trademark of Bayer. But word fell into common usage (probably because it was easier to say than "acetylsalicylic acid") and Bayer lost the trademark in the United States. In Canada, where the laws are presumably different, Bayer still holds the trademark on aspirin so up there they call their product "Aspirin" and everybody else that sells it refers to it as "ASA."

In the United States, many people call the phone company "Ma Bell" or just "Bell", even when it's not a Bell company. AT&T is still referred to as "Bell" or the "Bell System", even though they haven't legally been allowed to use that name since 1984. I've even heard independent phone companies referred to as "Bell". Then there is the strange case of Cincinnati Bell, which was not part of the Bell System (that is, not owned by AT&T), but still was allowed to use the "Bell" name.

I will grant that the Bells have pressured some companies to change their name but in most cases these were companies using the name Bell directly, and also these were small companies that didn't have the resources to fight. I note that on that site they mention "Beltronics" as an infringing mark, yet if I Google on that name I get "Beltronics USA", so the name is still in use.

Pulver may or may not choose to fight this but if he does, I don't think anyone should assume that it's an open and shut case. Again, if he were calling the company "Pulver Bell" or something like that, I would say that the actual trademark owner (and I'm still not clear who legally "owns" the Bell trademark, since so many entities seem to have a legal right to use it) might have a cause of action, but even then it's certainly not clear-cut due to "Bell" being a common English word.

Bell has actually been pretty careless with their trademarks in the past. I remember my dad telling me in the 1960's that a Michigan Bell employee told him that Bell had actually lost the rights to their logo (the famous "bell" in the circle") because they never bothered to register it, and someone else did. So they wound up having to buy back their own trademark! Then in the mid-90's that guy went into the Internet domain name business. (Okay, I made that last part up, but the rest was what my dad told me, and he knew a lot of the guys at the local Michigan Bell office, so I assume it to be true).

micl
Visit Lovely Downtown Port Starboard
Premium
join:2001-10-25
Silver Spring, MD

Re: Change your name

Thanks for taking the time to write a more comprehensive explanation of the Trademark issues involved here! I agree, dilution is what would probably get BST in the end. Perhaps they should just relax and have a coke.
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FFH
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5

Re: Change your name

Just one little fly in that ointment. Bellster would go bankrupt fighting Bell South to win in court. The lawyer fees needed to win, even if Bellster is right, means Bell South will get what it wants because Bellster doesn't have the funds to make a fight of it.
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lesopp

join:2001-06-27
Land O Lakes, FL
For the grief this will cost him, he should have used any of the following names:
"Nobell"
"NTE-bell" (Not the evil bell)
"Bell-NOT!"

FFH
Premium
join:2002-03-03
Tavistock NJ
kudos:5
said by AtomicZero:

I do think he could have been more original
I agree. The Bell trademark in phone services has been around for 100 years and has been owned by one Bell company or another thru that whole time. To ignore that wasn't very bright. That is why companies hire lawyers to do trademark searches before incorporating and choosing a name for a company or product. He'll just have to come up with a new name.
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vonsen
Just Because
Premium
join:2005-01-06

1 edit

Hunter seeker drones??

What is "Sends out hunter-seeker drones to repair" supposed to mean?

edit:Ah, I see HS drones = ambulance chasers, er, I mean lawyers.

copperdoctor
Premium
join:2003-12-08
Palatine, IL

Well, duh

Not exactly a big story, if the "Bell's" are so evil why use any part of the name?

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TheEternalTroll

join:2000-12-01
Knoxville, TN

In the end, he will not win...

Does not even have a chance. Bellsouth can swamp him in legal paperwork so bad that he drowns. Personally, I think bellsouth's case has merit and will most likely win. Even if it does not, they can still drown him legally.

Transmaster
Don't Blame Me I Voted For Bill and Opus

join:2001-06-20
Cheyenne, WY
Reviews:
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1 edit

laughing

all the way to the bank. You have to know Mr. Pulver picked the name he did hoping just this very thing would happen. Millions of dollars of free advertising, the look of a small upstart being attacked by a "Big E-vee-ill Telco" He can then change the name "Ballsters" as in I have the.....:)
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vonsen
Just Because
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1 edit

Re: laughing

That is very plausible.

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ltt75

join:2001-01-22
Hollis, NH

name

bad idea on Jeff's part. Just asking for trouble.

ZOverLord
Premium
join:2003-10-20
Minneapolis, MN

1 edit

Do I hear a LOUD sucking sound?

He needs to change the name or expose the people offering their equipment for use to being sued as well.

Keep the name and buy some new summer homes for the lawyers, which I am sure at this stage they are suggesting he do. Hell, it might only take 7 years before it finally is decided.

Jeff has been around a LONG time, seems like he had a BRAIN FART on this one, he knows better than to pour gas on his head and then light a match to read a map for driving directions.

Use a FLASHLIGHT this time Jeff, change the name, let some of the people providing equipment for calls keep their kids in college and keep their house, after all, they could be sued as PART of this mess as well :-(

Another EXAMPLE of how bad IMPLEMENTATION Kills a project before it gets moving, HEY Jeff look at the bright side, it only cost the FBI 170 Million before they WOKE UP!

pokesph
It Is Almost Fast
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join:2001-06-25
Sacramento, CA
kudos:1
Reviews:
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1 recommendation

Bell - ster

Next Napster will get in on the free advertising service and sue Mr. Pulver's new co. giving even more free advertising.

works for me.. renames my self to some hudge mega-corp.

Mike Roe
Owner, Mike Roe Soft Software
Oh wait.. thats been done before.. dang!
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anon99955

@205.144.x.x

Next Up for BellSouth.......

Taco Bell

P Ness
You'Ve Forgotten 9-11 Already
Premium
join:2001-08-29
way way out
Reviews:
·Comcast

Re: Next Up for BellSouth.......

WOW a new way for Bellsouth to remain profitable...sue everyone with the name "bell"

Symbol Name Market Industry Add to My Portfolio
BC-PD.TO BELL CANADA CLASS A Toronto N/A Add
BC-PA.TO BELL CANADA CUM REDEEM CL A PFD Toronto N/A Add
BC-PB.TO BELL CANADA CUM REDEEM CL A PFD Toronto N/A Add
BC-PC.TO BELL CANADA CUM REDEEM CL A PFD Toronto N/A Add
BCICF.PK Bell Canada International Inc PNK Communications Services Add
BI-H.V BELL CANADA INTERNATIONAL INC Vancouver N/A Add
BI.TO BELL CANADA INTL INC Toronto N/A Add
BCOCF.PK Bell Coast Capital Corp PNK N/A Add
BCP.V BELL COAST CAPITAL CORP Vancouver N/A Add
BI Bell Industries Inc AMEX Electronic Instruments & Controls Add
BELM Bell Microproducts Inc NasdaqNM Semiconductors Add
BNG-PA.TO BELL NORDIQ GROUP INC Toronto N/A Add
BNQ-UN.TO BELL NORDIQ INCOME FD Toronto N/A Add
BNDQF.PK Bell Nordiq Income Fund PNK N/A Add
BL.V BELL RESOURCES CORP Vancouver N/A Add
BZRSF.PK Bell Resources Corp PNK N/A Add
BLS BellSouth Corp NYSE Communications Services Add
CBB Cincinnati Bell Inc NYSE Communications Services Add
CBB-PB CINCINNATI BELL PR B NYSE N/A Add
KCH Corts Trust II BellSouth Debentures NYSE N/A Add
HIKO.PK Hiko Bell Mining & Oil Co PNK N/A Add
LBBB.OB Liberty Bell Bank (NJ) OTC BB N/A Add
LBBBW.OB Liberty Bell Bank (NJ) OTC BB N/A Add
RDBL.PK Red Bell Brewing Co PNK Beverages (Alcoholic) Add
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alanhdsl
Premium
join:1999-10-09
Phoenix, AZ

Re: Next Up for BellSouth.......

Bell Canada has Canadian rights to the Bell trademark, so they're okay. The remainder are generally in other lines of business. So Bell Seasoning is safe from SBC unless as long as they stick to spices rather than telecomunication.

nightshade74
Yet another genxer
Premium
join:2004-11-06
Prattville, AL

Trademark Law

If the can enforce rights against Beltronics
... He prob. should just bite the bullet
and change the name.

See:
»www.bell.com/resources.htm

GlobalMind
Domino Dude, POWER Systems Guy
Premium
join:2001-10-29
Hollywood, FL

Just because

It's a telecom type of deal and he's going after their marketshare...that's the only reason they're doing this.

I don't recall them suing Bell helmets.....and I doubt they would sue many of those mentioned in another post.

K.
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mglunt

join:2001-09-10
Fredericksburg, VA
Reviews:
·Verizon FiOS

Re: Just because

I can see Bell's point. I know that this forum is pretty liberal / anti-business, but the other Bell's mentioned (Taco Bell, etc) are not trying to compete with Bell.

OBVIOUSLY, he chose the name with Bellsouth in mind. Any moron can see that. He just didn't come up with "Bellster" out of the blue.

ZOverLord
Premium
join:2003-10-20
Minneapolis, MN

1 edit

Re: Just because

said by mglunt:


I can see Bell's point. I know that this forum is pretty liberal / anti-business, but the other Bell's mentioned (Taco Bell, etc) are not trying to compete with Bell.

OBVIOUSLY, he chose the name with Bellsouth in mind. Any moron can see that. He just didn't come up with "Bellster" out of the blue.
I Agree

IMHO Jeff tried to get some FREE publicity and a pity party at the EXPENSE of people that may and are providing equipment for this CURRENT Pity party.

Jeff has been around for MANY MANY years and he does NOT exactly have the MIDUS touch, maybe he thought this was his last chance, if anything I am angry at the thought that others could pay for his lack of RESEARCH dearly, like the people who were helping to provide equipment.

So, I personally am not on the "POOR Jeff" side of the house, he has TRIED to start many telco like ventures in the past and was SMART enough to NOT use the word "Bell" in any of their names. So I look at this as a GIMMICK that may hurt many more people then most know.

We have no idea of what INVESTMENTS people have made in the equipment and software required to provide these services or the number of people who have purchased these items.

Sadly, many people could now be SCREWED only because of a poor choice of names that MUST have been thought of before hand.

sharksfan3
Premium
join:2004-02-16
North Hollywood, CA
said by mglunt:

OBVIOUSLY, he chose the name with Bellsouth in mind. Any moron can see that. He just didn't come up with "Bellster" out of the blue.
What about Pacific Bell or Bell Atlantic? Bellsouth didn't sue these company's for use of the word "Bell". The fact that these two company's are now part of 2 even larger companies doesn't change the argument.
jsouth
Jsouth

join:2000-12-12
Wichita, KS

Re: Just because

Bellsouth can't sue them. They are also "baby bell" born out of the same womb (ie AT&T). Same thing with Southwestern Bell etc.

WhyADuck
Premium
join:2003-03-05
kudos:1

Re: Just because

But that does not apply to Cincinnati Bell, which also uses the name!

GlobalMind
Domino Dude, POWER Systems Guy
Premium
join:2001-10-29
Hollywood, FL
Well he may have included Bell in the name to indicate a telecom slant, but that doesn't mean BellSouth has a case here.

There are cases all through history where names have been derived by use of other names, resulting in a legally usable entity. Not every case where a company uses "Bell" in their name is illegal - this one happens to be convenient for BellSouth because the company in question is in the telecom sector.

BTW, I am not anti-business but rather pro-common sense.

Take the case of say - Google vs Booble. THAT is a clear case of using a derivitive name in what was essentially an infringing manner (used same type of logo etc).

You might also recall GM's case against Beretta guns while ago (wait, might have been the other way round)...citing market confusion.

There is no confusion here between Bellster and BellSouth.

K.
smcallah

join:2004-08-05
Home
Uhhhhh... when was the last time that BELL HELMETS ran a TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY?

GlobalMind
Domino Dude, POWER Systems Guy
Premium
join:2001-10-29
Hollywood, FL

Re: Just because

said by smcallah:

Uhhhhh... when was the last time that BELL HELMETS ran a TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY?
Exactly the point.

They're only doing this because it is a telecom related venture that happens to be taking marketshare from BellSouth. It has very little to do with trademarks, or diluting the value of the BellSouth name.

Oh, and FWIW - since when did GM make guns or Beretta make cars? Didn't stop that lawsuit from happening (dismissed, yes...but nonetheless.)

K.
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asdfdfdf

@xtraport.net

...

Bell is a general term. It is bellsouth's use of the word that should be the problem. We refer to all the baby bells from the divestiture. Bellsouth should not have any trademark claim on such a thing, any more than microsoft should be able to co-opt a generic term like windows, when every modern gui uses a windowing system. If you want to claim some trademark you should have to come up with something more than slapping a heavily used term into your name.

I'm sure he chose it to give the idea of an alternative to any of the baby bell companies.
Tarmax

join:2001-05-03
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Re: ...

I'm with asdf on this one.

From the bell.com resources page linked to above:

"The owners of the Bell Marks have successfully enforced their rights against literally thousands of different infringers. Examples of infringing marks and names are Beltronics, Microbell, All Florida Bell, Mobell, Bellcom, MaBell and Liberty Bell."

First argument: Beltronics. WTF? lol.. it doesn't even have all 4 letters!!
Second umm.. question? the Bells now own the Liberty Bell?? lol

But anyway, yes. I believe that he chose the name with the idea of an RBOC alternative in mind. Not to undercut Bell S.... oh wait. lol

Must be some very sensitive ground he stepped onto here. But I'm sure BS would have thrown the drones at him regardless of what the name was, for "unfair business practices" or some such.. lol
*suddenly reminded of Lafayette, LA*

heathcpe

join:2002-03-19
Brandon, MS

Bellsouth Doesn't Own "Bell"!!!

Looks like Bellsouth doesn't even own the trademark "Bell". It is owned by Bell Sports, Inc.
»tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=···lujj.2.2

bigunk
Gort, Klattu Birada Nikto

join:2001-02-10
USA

What's in a name?

Try this line of thinking...

Remember when Prince had his legal issues with the record companies (I don't know all the details, sorry), and he couldn't use his own name until the contract was up? So he changed his name to that symbol and billed himself as "The Artist formerly known as Prince". Pulver can let the threats build up and get the publicity, then change the name to "The CLEC formerly known as Bellster." Maybe TCFKAB for short. Genius. Pure Genius....
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ZOverLord
Premium
join:2003-10-20
Minneapolis, MN

Re: What's in a name?

said by bigunk:

Try this line of thinking...

Remember when Prince had his legal issues with the record companies (I don't know all the details, sorry), and he couldn't use his own name until the contract was up? So he changed his name to that symbol and billed himself as "The Artist formerly known as Prince". Pulver can let the threats build up and get the publicity, then change the name to "The CLEC formerly known as Bellster." Maybe TCFKAB for short. Genius. Pure Genius....
Changing the name later or as soon as tomorrow does not remove the ability for damages to be awarded for the time the name was used. If you were one of these people who are investing in this 'special equipment/software' who could be sued, what would YOU want Jeff to do, since nowhere in the agreement with Jeff does he CLAIM to protect you from a suit.

If you are currently or wishing to be a PART of this mess, you in fact can or will be liable for damages until told otherwise.

Sure, this could go AWAY, but again it could cost you just on LEGAL FEES alone your home and lifestyle before it does.

So he OWES the others to back down, deflate his EGO or provide ALL the legal resources for FREE to the OTHERS at risk, as a business man, if he does not, would you do business with him in the future, seems his EGO is more important than the people trying to make his CONCEPT work.

The people that stay with him, if he refuses to NOT change the name NOW should be no less surprised that the Get Away Driver in a Bank robbery gets the same prison time as the actual parties who went inside the bank and robbed it.

Actually they are better off, they have KNOWLEDGE that a MAJOR legal problem has been found, which could take YEARS to resolve before it's over IF the name is not changed.

I call it Fair Warning!

bigunk
Gort, Klattu Birada Nikto

join:2001-02-10
USA

Re: What's in a name?

A lot to think about. FYI, I am not a part of this company in any way. Have yet to even look at the site. Just for fun, I am going to discuss this with my lawyer as a point of conversation. He is a good friend and we are always comparing notes. I always am in the mood for clarification of legal concepts, knowing full well that even if I had a case, the other side could drown me. Certain battles I choose not to take on. The others...well, I just make sure I have a clear case before proceeding.
--
Televideo ergo sum.....I watch TV, therefore I am.

footballdude
Premium
join:2002-08-13
Imperial, MO

obvious

Seems pretty obvious he was trying to compete with a Bell by coming up with a name that made him sound similar. I imagine you'd have to search long and hard for a judge that wouldn't smack him down here. If he was selling aluminum siding it would be different but he's trying to compete directly.

By comparison, just about everyone in the world that uses OLY as a part of their name has been sued by the International Olympic Commitee and the IOC has been winning.

ZOverLord
Premium
join:2003-10-20
Minneapolis, MN

2 edits

Does Jeff Pulver REALLY have The Bellster TM?

When did Jeff Pulver receive the Trademark for Bellster?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark office which is current as of:

Filings Information:

Last complete paper filing date: 2 January 2005* loaded 26 January 2005.

Last complete electronic filing date (e-TEAS): 10 January 2005* loaded 25 January 2005.

*This date should be used as a guide and does not imply that all Trademark applications carrying this filing date are available in the system as of the load date. Updates are scheduled to occur Tues. through Sat. prior to 5:30 AM.

Link is here: »tess2.uspto.gov/webaka/html/news.htm

There is NO Bellster listed as a trademark:

»tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=s···5lam.1.1

Use Bellster as your search.

Yet the Bellster site shows this name as TRADEMARKED,
claiming rights in a mark, maybe this is just Jeff's Ego at work again?

Here is his site showing Bellster with TM

»www.bellster.net/web/

So it would make sense that he would NOT have a registered trademark because I am positive it would NOT have been granted knowing its use was for telco reasons.

This would explain ALOT why he is in trouble.

Yes, I know there is a possibility that the trademark has been formally filed and NOT been posted yet, however he claims to have over 600+ lines in this network, one would assume that it would have been approved before you had even ONE!


FROSTY
Premium,MVM
join:2000-08-10
Leeds, AL

Anyone remember AutoShack?

Radio Shack pulled this same stunt years ago when now AutoZone named it stores AutoShack. Radio Shack sued them claiming they had exclusive rights to the word 'Shack'. The end result, AutoZone changed their named to what it is today.
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nitzguy
Premium
join:2002-07-11
Sudbury, ON

Different country?

Ok, with the internet being what it is...what if he registered the name "Bellster" in a different country (IE. Germany/France).

Could he then not continue on with his business as Bellster since it would be technicially registered in those countries?

Or is it specific to the US? I'm not up on patent laws and trademark laws...but is this not possible? Since most of those companies use Telekom (Deutsche Telekom/France Telecom) anyways, they could care less.