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Jul. 23 2010 - 9:08 am | 159 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Lockheed Martin versus fly-rod maker

Skunk Works logo

Image via Wikipedia

Every American airplane geek recognizes the term “Skunk Works,” and its logo, at left. It is the semi-comical name attached to the most cutting-edge engineering efforts by Lockheed Martin Corp. Years ago, the rudders of several SR-71’s flashed that cartoon skunk.

Now, a fly-rod maker has glommed onto the name, and named his business Skunkworks Fly Rods, and created his site as www.skunkworksflyrods.com.

Lockheed doesn’t like this, even if rod-maker Jerry Foster writes “Skunkworks” as one word, as BusinessWeek.com reports:

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, has told a maker of bamboo rods used for fly-fishing that his website infringes the company’s trademark.

Sections of a letter from counsel for Lockheed are posted on the Trout Underground blog site. In the letter, sent by Lynne Boisineau of Chicago’s McDermott Will & Emery, the fishing-rod maker was told his choice of skunkworksflyrods.com as a domain name “is in bad faith and is an attempt to profit off the goodwill of the Skunk Works trademark” and the misdirect the “unwitting public” away from the defense contractor’s official Skunk Works website.

The term had its origins in a “L’il Abner” comic strip by the late Al Capp, who used “skonk works” as a name for an illegal still in the swampy backwoods of Dogpatch, an imaginary town.

According to the database of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Lockheed first registered “skunk works” as a trademark in July 1981. The mark is registered for use with “engineering technical consulting, and advisory services with respect to designing, building, equipping, and testing commercial and military aircraft and related equipment.”

In November 2001 Lockheed added another registration for the mark, to be used with games, sporting articles and stuffed animals.

I’m not surprised by this. Everyone has to “protect the brand” these days, even if you’re the largest defense contractor in the world and you’re going to push around a very small-time fly-rod maker.

Maybe Mr. Foster is an airplane geek, too, and used the name as an homage to the fantastic Lockheed designs of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Or maybe Mr. Foster is a L’il Abner fan. If so, he might avoid a lot of hassle and legal fees by quickly changing the name of his business to “Skonk Works Fly Rods.”

However, has the expression “skunk works” or “skunkworks” moved into the American lexicon as a common term meaning a project with a “high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy“? Could this be the usage Mr. Foster intends, to indicate that his fly rods are not major-label items, but carefully crafted works of art from a small business that operates with minimal hassle and presents the same to its potential customers?

If so, perhaps Lockheed has no case? Their own linguistic invention has taken on a life of its own, and perhaps they can’t get it back.

This will be an interesting case on numerous levels: intellectual property, freedom of speech, and big-guy-versus-very-little-guy.

Keep an eye on it.

# # #

Thanks for a tip from MidCurrent.com.

via Gilead, Sperian, Skadden, Tata: Intellectual Property – BusinessWeek.


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    I've worked as a ghostwriter, a magazine editor, and an acquisitions editor in publishing, and lived for quite a while in NYC. Now I live in the trees and am a freelance "content provider" for print and digital media and for broadcast programming. I also rep the work of angling artist Ernest Schwiebert. I published a short story collection, "The Midnight Fish," in 2001, and the satires, "The Vampire Survival Guide," (2008) and "The Vampire Seduction Handbook," co-written with Luc Richard Ballion" (2009). My novels are represented by Harold Ober Associates, NYC.

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