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Oprah must face lawsuit over 'Own Your Power': appeals court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey will have to defend in court her use of the phrase "Own Your Power" in her magazine and on her website, a U.S. appeals court said Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey will have to defend in court her use of the phrase "Own Your Power" in her magazine and on her website, a U.S. appeals court said Friday.

Overturning a lower court ruling, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals revived claims brought by the owner of a motivational services business who claimed she owns a trademark on the phrase.

The case should go forward, the appeals court said, because the plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that Winfrey was "attempting to build a new segment of her media empire around" the phrase "Own Your Power."

She and her company, Harpo Inc, have repeatedly used the phrase, including on a website, for promotional events, and on the cover of the October 2010 issues of O, The Oprah Magazine, the court said.

Winfrey's continuous use of the phrase could become "symbolic shorthand" for her products and message as a whole, the court said.

Winfrey is one of the most popular talk show hosts in history and now runs the cable network OWN in a joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc.

Harpo, as well as Hearst Corp, which publishes O, The Oprah Magazine, and Estee Lauder Companies Inc are also defendants in the lawsuit.

A representative for Harpo was not immediately available for comment.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty of New York had dismissed the lawsuit in March 2012, finding no one seeing the Oprah magazine or information about the related events would think they were created by the plaintiffs, Simone Kelly-Brown and Own Your Power Communications Inc.

The plaintiff also alleged that Winfrey would have known the Own Your Power trademark already existed due to searches that would have been done when her television network, OWN, was developed.

The appeals court agreed it was possible, and those issues will also now be reviewed by the lower court.

Patricia Lawrence-Kolaras, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the case has been an uphill battle and that her clients are "ecstatic" about the opinion.

The court did rule that Winfrey and her co-defendants would not have to face allegations relating to logos used on the magazine or at the events.

In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Robert Sack said Friday's decision should not be interpreted to mean that a publisher is always forbidden from using a trademarked term to describe its content, such as on a magazine cover or in a headline.

In this case, Sack wrote, it was Winfrey's repeated use of the phrase in an attempt to build an association with consumers that concerned the court.

Representatives of Hearst and Estee Lauder were not immediately available for comment.

The case is Kelly-Brown et al v. Oprah Winfrey, et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, No. 12-1207.

(Reporting by Erin Geiger Smith; Editing by Andrew Hay and Tim Dobbyn)