Thursday, August 27, 2009


We have all heard the power of an Oprah Winfrey product endorsement, or the financial windfall that occurs when Oprah puts you on her booklist. So of course having Ms. Winfrey endorse or even review your product, book, or service is a coveted position by any entrepreneur. Oprah is fully aware of the power of her endorsements, so she is making sure that who she endorses must be accurate, protected, and not diluted by fakes claiming that their products were endorsed by her when they were in fact not.

So Oprah is getting tough and has filed a federal complaint against 50 firms for false association, misrepresentation, trademark infringement, and other claims. After Dr. Memhet Oz touted the benefits of acai berry products, many firms used Oprah and Dr. Oz’s name and image in their advisement creating the impression that Oprah and Dr. Oz endorsed their products when the actually did not.

The lawsuit is Oz. v. FWM Laboratories, Inc. 1:09-cv-07297-DAB; was filed in the Southern District of New York, on August 19, 2009. The complaint states "[t]hese defendants are willfully capitalizing on plaintiffs' valuable reputation and intellectual property rights to lure consumers into ordering their infringing products on the false premise that they have been tested or recommended by Ms. Winfrey and/or Dr. Oz when they have not.”

Oprah is also assisting the Illinois Attorney General in a larger array of investigations which is cracking down on acai berries dietary supplement makers. So far the Attorney General has filed three other lawsuits. Oprah’s lawsuit shows her power of branding and trademark influence.

As a Los Angeles trademark lawyer, I see also several state claims that could be included. As such, Oprah’s New York attorney included claims of trademark infringement, false endorsement, dilution, rights of privacy and publicity under New York and Illinois law, copyright infringement, false advertising under New York and Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, cybersquatting (to get back various domain names that includes Oprah’s trademarks), unfair competition, and unjust enrichment. So essentially they threw in the kitchen sink of claims, and rightfully so. Oprah is keeping her name and trademarks strong by zealous and diligent enforcement.