Clare Sidoti Staff Writer
It’s quickly becoming one of her go-to catchphrases, but Oprah Winfrey’s use of the phrase “Own Your Power” has landed her in court.
The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling last Friday (31 May) that dismissed the claims brought forward by Simone Kelly-Brown, owner of Own Your Power Communications Inc, that she owns a trademark on the phrase. As a result of the ruling, Winfrey will have to defend her use of the phrase before the court.
The appeal court’s reasoning behind the overruling was that it was possible Winfrey was “attempting to build a new segment of her media empire” around the phrase. They cited examples of her website, a September 2010 “Own Your Power” promotional event and the October 2010 cover of O, the Oprah Magazine as evidence of this by Winfrey and her company, Harpo Inc. By the widespread, continuous use of the phrase in Winfrey and Harpo Inc products, the court believes that it could become “symbolic shorthand” for her products and message as a whole.
The court did say that during the course of the case, information could be presented that undermines the theory. However, it is up to Winfrey and her team to prove this.
Along with Harpo Inc, Hearst Corp (publishers of O, The Oprah Magazine) and Estee Lauder Companies Inc are co-defendants in the lawsuit. Estee Lauder’s involvement is due to their corporate sponsorship of the “Own Your Power” promotional event. In a joint statement from Harpo and Hearst, they claimed that the “editorial use” of the phrase was protected by the First Amendment and that they would vigorously defend the lawsuit. There has been no comment from Estee Lauder.
Kelly-Brown’s initial lawsuit was dismissed in March 2012 by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of New York. He found that on seeing Oprah’s magazine or looking at information about the related events, no one would think that they were created by Kelly-Brown.
Kelly-Brown’s lawsuit claimed that when developing her OWN television network, Winfrey would have known that the “Own Your Power” trademark already existed through searches she and her team would have conducted. The appeals court found that this may be possible and that the claims should be reviewed by the lower court.
Kelly-Brown’s attorney Patricia Lawrence-Kolaras has said that her clients were “ecstatic” at the ruling.
In addition to the court’s official ruling, Circuit Judge Robert Sack issued his own additional statement. He agreed with the court’s ruling but wanted it made clear that just because the decision was overturned in this case that publishers’ were forbidden from using a trademarked term to describe the content of a publication. Sack said that this wasn’t the concern in this case. What concerned the court was Winfrey’s repeated use of the phrase “Own Your Power” and the implication that its use was an attempt in building an association in the minds of consumers between it and Winfrey’s products.