“Hon” hullabaloo reached new heights (or depths) this week when Denise Whiting, proprietor of Cafe Hon, Hon Bar, and Hontown, and founder of Hampden’s Honfest, was granted a restraining order against a vocal and active critic of her trademark-happy behavior, 25-year-old Steven Akers. Whiting’s complaint cited Akers’ “harassing, terrorizing, unpredictable, obsessive, stalkerlike behavior,” which included shouting “No one owns Hon!” into Cafe Hon during Honfest and scribbling mildly confrontational comments on the Internet. Akers views the restraining order as unfounded, since he was “just passing out fliers.”
While Whiting’s hijacking of a classic Baltimore colloquialism is rather unneighborly, as well as unfair to other local businesses, the vitriolic protests seem a little out of place. They raise the “hon” issue to a level of seriousness that it just doesn’t deserve, and might slightly misrepresent the extent of the trademark’s meaning.
Many seemingly generic words and phrases are trademarked. Marvel Comics and competitor DC jointly own the term “superhero.” Paris Hilton owns “That’s Hot!” And Emeril Lagasse owns “Bam!” (Jackass star Bam Margera has a claim on the word sans exclamation point.) None of these trademarks (even the clearly anticompetitive trademark of “superhero”) stops anyone from using the phrase in everyday speech.
As far as the restriction Whiting’s claim places on products with the word on them, the challenge should come from local businesses whose activities have been unfairly curtailed by the trademark.