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Publisher Accuses Companies of 'Entrepreneur' Trademark Infringement

PR firm's owner and others have been subject to cease-and-desist letters for the use of the word.

October 04, 2000|DENISE GELLENE Denise Gellene..AU: LEE ROMNEY and MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Scott Smith says he can identify with Entrepreneur magazine's current cover story, "Entrepreneurs Under Attack."

That's because the Sacramento PR man is fighting trademark infringement accusations from a bigger company: Entrepreneur Media, the magazine's Irvine-based parent.

In January 1998, Entrepreneur Media sent a cease-and-desist letter to Smith and his public relations firm, Entrepreneur PR. The letter said that the publisher had registered the word "entrepreneur" in 1982.

Entrepreneur Media sued Smith in federal district court in Los Angeles in March 1998. Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled against Smith in June, but he is appealing that decision. Cooper ordered Smith to stop using entrepreneur and pay his adversary damages of $337,280.

The publisher has sent cease-and-desist letters to other companies using entrepreneur in their names. Young Entrepreneur newsletter, based in Atlanta, changed its name to Y&E last year rather than fight Entrepreneur Media. Asian Entrepreneur of Diamond Bar changed the name of its publication to Asian Enterprise after it received a letter in 1994.

Ernst & Young, which runs an awards program for entrepreneurs, said it received a letter from Entrepreneur Media two years ago. But the accounting firm hasn't changed the name of its Entrepreneur of the Year program and continues to publish a magazine listing the winners, said Nancy Clark, who runs the program for the firm.

Some small-business leaders think it is time for a cease-fire.

"It's hard to see how this is good for our community or for Entrepreneur magazine," said Steve Mariotti, president of the New York-based National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship. "I don't think anyone should own the word entrepreneur."

As a show of support for Smith, the 187,000-member California Small Business Assn. recently selected him as one of 40 panelists for its annual small-business round-table later this month. Said CSBA President Betty Jo Toccoli: "Most small businesses would change their name. Scott has chosen to fight for what he built."

Entrepreneur Media Chairman Peter Shea said the dispute "isn't about going after entrepreneurs. We're obligated to protect our name."

Aware that the case has been mentioned in Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal (and now The Times), Shea voiced respect for Smith's media prowess. "He does crank out the PR."

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