If you search for books with the word “COCKY” in the title, the romance genre offers a large selection. One author in particular appears to be building a series of books with titles created as a play on words based on the main characters’ last names, Cocker. Thus, the books feature titles with the word “COCKY,” including titles such as “Cocky Roomie” and “Cocky Senator”.
The term “COCKY” is the subject of a recently registered trademark that has spurred quite the controversy. In April, romance author Faleena Hopkins, through her company Hop Hop Productions Inc., received a certificate from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granting her a trademark registration for use of the word “COCKY” in connection with goods for “a series of books and downloadable e-books in the field of romance.” Under U.S. Trademark laws,15 U.S.C. §§1051, 1052, and 1127, more than one book is required in order to apply for a trademark for the title of a book series. See also TMEP 1208 et seq. The title of a single creative work is not registrable on either the Principal or Supplemental Trademark Register. Herbko Int’l, Inc. v. Kappa Books, Inc., 308 F.3d 1156, 1162, 64 USPQ2d 1375, 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2002) (“the title of a single book cannot serve as a source identifier”).
Since obtaining the U.S. Trademark Registration Certificate for COCKY, Hopkins has been asserting her registered trademark in cease and desist letters and threatening litigation against novelists in romance and other genres in order to force them to change the titles of their respective books. The world of romance e-books is mostly filled with self-published authors – generally meaning that these authors don’t have the commercial revenue to fight lawsuits, or design new cover art and promotional materials in order to comply with demands or risk their works being removed from online retailers such as Amazon.
Romance Writers of America hired an intellectual property lawyer to assist authors affected by the “COCKY” owner’s recently issued trademark and aggressive enforcement tactics. Retired lawyer turned writer Kevin Kneupper filed a Petition for Cancellation with the USPTO. In response to this action, Hopkins, through her attorneys, filed for a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order in the Southern District of New York against Kneupper and writers Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson, authors accused of violating the trademark. Hopkins argued that the social media tirade against her has resulted in popular hashtags, such as #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena, and has directly affected her sales and income. On June 1st, a federal judge denied Hopkins’ motion and dismissed Kneupper from the lawsuit.
Hop Hop Productions, Inc. is also asserting ownership of a second “COCKY” trademark, a stylized design wordmark featured in the cover art title of the books. The font used was allegedly created by Set Sail Studios, which is owned by graphic designer Sam Parrett. Parrett recently sent a cease and desist letter to Hopkins and asserted ownership claims in connection with the font. At this time, Hop Hop Productions, Inc. remains the registered owner of this trademark in the USPTO. However, the USPTO provides means for parties to contest ownership, such as by procedural means of opposition of allowed trademarks or cancellation of registered trademarks.
Trademark rights provide an owner with a right to stop unauthorized third-parties from using the same or similar mark on similar or related goods in order to reduce the likelihood of consumer confusion. Trademark owners should seek legal counsel on evaluating enforcement methods and tactics prior to taking any action. Challenges or consequences may exist, such as third parties taking actions to oppose allowed trademarks or cancel registered trademarks, along with posts made to social media related to a matter.