Pillar Envy: Wisconsin Bar Sued LexisNexis Over Use of Column Symbol

We have another rather bizarre infringement action based on a fairly common symbol. The State Bar of Wisconsin has sued LexisNexis over its use of an online logo that looks like its own symbol. Once again, as with prior lawsuits by Apple and other organizations, I fail to understand the tightening stranglehold of infringement actions over the use of common symbols and terms. The column is a standard symbol for lawyers and schools. In my view, the Wisconsin Bar is showing poor judgment in litigating such an issue — particularly when there is little danger of confusion for observers.

Yet, the bar insists that confusion is obvious and harmful:

Consumer confusion is inevitable. If LexisNexis’ infringement continues, members of the public and the legal profession will be confused into thinking—incorrectly—that there is some affiliation or relationship between the Lawyers.com services and the services offered by the State Bar. To protect its own investment in the Pillar Icon, and to protect the public and the legal profession from this inevitable confusion, the State Bar seeks declaratory and injunctive relief preventing LexisNexis from the continued use of its infringing pillar mark.

I am afraid I am not convinced. The pillar symbols are in fact different and the general use of such a symbol is ubiquitous in the legal profession. It seems rather silly to start claiming some degree of ownership over Doric, Ionic or Corinthian designs.

Here is what the bar told its members:

State Bar files lawsuit against LexisNexis for trademark infringement

Aug. 22, 2011 – The State Bar of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit on August 19 against LexisNexis to enforce the State Bar’s federally registered Pillar Icon trademark. LexisNexis recently began using a similar pillar logo on its legal information website, Lawyers.com. LexisNexis has so far refused the State Bar’s request that it change the Lawyers.com logo.

The State Bar maintains a portfolio of trademarks to promote and distinguish its goods and services, which include highly regarded publications, educational programs and public information services. The Pillar Icon, used in connection with all the State Bar’s goods and services, represents the State Bar’s excellent reputation as one of the nations’ leading bar associations.

State Bar members should be assured that the association completed the selection and registration of its trademarks with great care. The State Bar adopted the Pillar Icon after a careful screening for potentially conflicting marks and promptly applied for federal registration. That application resulted in federal registration of the Pillar Icon, which gives the State Bar the exclusive nationwide right to use the Pillar Icon and the right to prevent others from using confusingly similar marks.

Like other trademark owners, to protect its reputation and to preserve its trademarks, the State Bar has an obligation to enforce its rights against the unauthorized use of confusingly similar trademarks.

Frankly, I do not believe that “the State Bar’s excellent reputation” is advanced by such lawsuits. I would have the same skepticism if a group of Corinthian descendants sued. The bar (which polices the line for frivolous or vexatious filings) should have shown more judgment. While this is not a frivolous filing in the sense that there is a basis for the lawsuit, it is not in my view a worthy use of the time of either the Court or the Bar.

Here is the lawsuit: BarvLexis

Source: JSOnlineand first seen on ABA Journal

Jonathan Turley

19 thoughts on “Pillar Envy: Wisconsin Bar Sued LexisNexis Over Use of Column Symbol”

  1. Attorneys for a law firm in Oaxaca, Mexico Tuesday announced plans to file a lawsuit against Mexico City seeking reparations for the past use of slave labor.

    The lawsuit claims slaves captured by the Aztec ruler Ahuitzotl, who engineered a successful military campaign in Oaxaca in the late 15th century, built the foundations for Mexico City and that ancestors of those slaves should receive compensation from the city.

    “Were it not for the wrongful enslavement of our people, Mexico City would be nothing more than a teeming, Third-World cesspool”, said attorney Enrique Cortez, a partner in the law firm DeLeon, Cortez and Balboa “It’s time somebody said ‘we’re sorry.'”

    Modern day Mexico City is built upon the ruins of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, which archeologists variously describe as a small, agricultural village, prior to the Aztec conquests of the mid-1400s.

    Historians say many of the prisoners taken by the Aztecs during the Oaxaca campaign were used for human sacrifices, but others were spared and enslaved for the purpose of building a road system and an aqueduct to supply water for the region’s farmers.

    At its height, Tenochtitlan was home to as many as 300,000 people, roughly the population of metropolitan Wichita, Kan.

    “It’s reprehensible that slave labor would be used to advance this sort of urban sprawl,” said Cortez. “Reparations to the ancestors of these slaves is the only thing that can make them whole.”

    Cortez said the lawsuit would seek unspecified damages for a class of plaintiffs that included dozens of Oaxacans.

    Mexico City Municipal Counsel Emilio Montalban offered little comment on the lawsuit, but said the plaintiffs “ought to be joyous to know their ancestors did not have their living hearts cut from their chests,” which was a common practice among the Aztecs.

    “To say that building an aqueduct is a worse fate than watching a shaman cut out your heart while tied to an altar is the height of arrogance,” said Montalban. “This lawsuit is nothing more than frivolous, legal fantasy.”

    But Cortez argued that enslavement by the Aztecs constituted “a violence more destructive than being tossed into a Toltec fire,” and noted that slaves taken from Oaxaca were routinely denied access to telpuchcalli , the schools in which boys were taught Aztec religion and history, as well as the arts of warfare.

    While the legal merits of the case are uncertain, some observers think the court action could have ramifications that extend beyond the question of slavery in 15th century Mexico.

    “I see real potential problems here for some of Mexico’s premiere corporations,” said Jorge Cabrera-Estevez, executive director of the Mexican Bar Association. “If this goes forward and the ‘at-least-we-didn’t-cut-out-their-hearts’ defense is successful, there’s some real exposure for some big players down here.”

    Specifically, Cabrera-Estevez mentioned the Hidalgo Mining Corporation, which has quarried obsidian in central Mexico for centuries.

    Archeologists have determined that Aztec priests utilized obsidian knives to remove the hearts of humans earmarked for sacrifice, using the tool to make an incision beneath the ribcage to facilitate removal of the still-beating heart.

    It’s not certain whether Hidalgo supplied any of the obsidian used in performing the ritual sacrifices.

    “Sure, it was legal to cut out hearts back then, but that doesn’t mean these obsidian knife manufacturers and mining companies shouldn’t be held to a proper moral standard, even if it is 500 years later,” said Cabrera-Estevez.

  2. rafflaw
    1, August 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm
    What a waste of money and time. I wonder if Gov. Walker is somehow involved?
    is LexisNexis a union shop?

  3. I thought Prof. Turley was largely avoiding the screwy world of so-called “Intellectual Property”?

    Why is the WI State bar filing such an obviously screwy suit? The simple answer seems to be that the whole universe of “IP” in the US is so screwed up that this sort of hare-brained suit is perfectly normal.

    Head over to SlashDot or ArsTechnica and you’ll find literally hundreds of stories about the revolting, troll-filled quagmire of so-called “IP”.Here’s a taste:


    The article opens, “As a lawyer, you know it’s going to be bad when a federal judge summons you to his courtroom at nine in the morning to talk about your “ill-considered lawsuit” that has “abused the litigation system in more than one way.”

  4. raff,

    I have heard that if you go to a WI law school…that once you Graduate you are automatically a member of the WI Bar…

    Absolutely Positively The Most Amazing State Regulation Preserving Local Lawyer Monopoly As “Consumer Protection”

    Twenty two years after statehood, Wisconsin needed qualified lawyers. To that end, the legislature in 1870 created the “diploma privilege,” which allowed any lawyer who obtained a degree from a recognized Wisconsin law school to practice in the state.

    So what does that ad hoc, pioneer-era expedient have to do with today’s global marketplace for legal services?

    It is still in force. That means lawyers who graduate from Wisconsin law schools do not have to take and pass the state bar exam; everyone else does.


    I checked it out…its still true…

  5. Mr. Spindell


  6. Mike,

    My names is Gallup. Do you think I would have a problem if I started a opinion survey company?


  7. I’m glad no one has trademarked/copyrighted “Mike Spindell” so I don’t have to pay to use my name. On the other hand perhaps a telephone book company could copy-write its contents, a real money maker. Silly suit, but a dangerous trend.

  8. How Ionic that lawyers would sue each other over something so trivial – what a bunch of Dorics!

  9. Sorry for the extra posting. I forgot about the WordPress limit of two links and figured that comment would languish in moderation forever. Big OOPS there!

  10. Maybe they should just trademark a vertical line. Then they could sue everybody who uses the letter “l.”

  11. This is not going to turn out well. There are just too many targets to claim exclusivity. How about The University of Mississippi?


    Or the University of Ottawa, if we want to jump across the border?


    Then there is Longwood University in Virginia.


    And those results just from memory. Who knows what a serious search might bring up.

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