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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Legal Extortion

As long as the world economy continues its accelerating collapse, the routine weekly sales updates that I had discontinued for being boring and insignificant (to everyone but myself) gain new interest. And so I hereby reinstate them.

Curio City is starting to feel the pinch. On Tuesday, when the Dow first closed below 10,000, traffic dropped by 50 visitors per day and sales dried up completely. Wednesday delivered a better-than-average six sales. They were all quite small, but the customers were there, and they were buying. Thursday was weak. Now, on Friday morning, equaling LY looks touch-and-go; the market appears to be cratering again today. Plan looks impossible.

Like everyone else, I’m at the mercy of events that are beyond my ability to even understand, much less affect. Pray, if you are the praying type, that all of this horrid background noise dies down soon. My sales targets rise for each of the next two weeks. President Bush is going on TV tonight to reassure the nation. Seeing President Bush always has the opposite effect on me.


This post has been on the hook for ages because I’m a little bit afraid to publish it. Even the most innocuous things come back to haunt you when the law gets involved. But I’ve always been the fool who rushes in, so here goes….

Last December, I got a FedEx letter from some lawyer in New Mexico. Unexpected letters from strange lawyers are never a good thing. Somebody is suing the manufacturer of the Levitron AG levitating globe for patent infringement. They threatened to drag me into it unless I (1) stop advertising and selling the globe; (2) return my unsold globes to Fascinations; and (3) send them the money that I made selling these globes. They timed the letter to arrive during the one week of the year that Fascinations is closed, and gave me only 10 days to comply.

Yeah, right.

Fascinations offered to indemnify me against any future legal proceedings, and the amount of money involved is laughably small (I have sold exactly three of those globes), so I didn’t even answer the blackmailer. Background materials that Fascinations sent me made it clear that this extortion attempt is just harassment. Informal advice from two lawyerly friends confirmed that maintaining silence is the prudent response. So I’m ignoring it. I haven’t heard anything in the ensuing 10 months, but of course the law moves at a glacial pace. It could still come back to annoy me someday.

A friend who watches daytime TV told me that our local TV Channel 4 stole my name. They have a news segment that features some oddball story about Boston. They call their feature “Curio City”. The words “I am curious about…” animate, “curious” morphs into “curio”, and the word “city” rises from a silhouette of the Boston skyline – or so she described it. I haven’t actually seen it myself.

If one bad extortion attempt deserves another, I’ll bet I could make them stop using it, or maybe even pay me for the privilege. I own the service mark “Curio City”. I have three friends who are intellectual property lawyers. But since the TV folks aren’t selling anything, I can’t imagine how showing the words “Curio City” on TV every day can possibly be a bad thing for Curio City Online. I don’t think it harms my brand. Maybe it will even send me a misguided visitor or two. So I choose to ignore it unless somebody tells me otherwise.

A few months ago a telephone caller told me that a consignment shop in Lacey, Washington is also using my name. She says that their store’s door refers customers to the website “shopcuriocity.com”, which I happen to own. When that URL redirected her to my store, she called to find out if I was affiliated with the store in Lacey. Because they are a retailer, and because they presumably own a URL that’s close to one of mine, this could potentially be more serious. Yet, none of the variations on my URL that I tested led to a store in Lacey, or anywhere else. If there’s a conflict, I’m not seeing it.

While I was searching on that, I discovered that “curio city” returns my store in Google’s #1 natural search position. Hooray! That’s real progress – so much, in fact, that I finally dropped my name from my paid keywords. I’m also #1 on Yahoo. My only brand competitors are a Curio City antique store in Beijing and a shop in Birmingham, England, whose nature I can’t quite determine. It looks like I really do own the name, as far as the search engines go, so I feel no compulsion to sue anybody.

Now if I could only remember what Dale told me about having to renew my service mark after umpty-ump years.

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. shopcuriocity is the precursor to the @gmail.com portion of their email address.

  3. Nice detective work there, Neal. You're right; that's a really obscure URL, and not a threat to my business at all. At least now I can see where that customer got the "shopcuriocity" that sent her to my store. That can only work in my favor.

    I wonder if the hyphen in their name makes it distinct from my service mark. Any lawyerly types out there know?

    BTW Neal, would you mind editing your original comment so that their URL is not a hotlink? Just put some spaces in it or something.

  4. Okay, this is a reprint of my original message (now since deleted) for the curious. (Can I spell that word with a "u" in it around these parts?)


    Curio-City in the state of Washington:

    [parse this URL at your own peril]

    You'd never have stumbled upon their main web site address.

  5. Thanks, that was interesting.

    I wonder how much that lawyer charged to send you that letter.


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