Despite what we teach our children, and what we would like to believe ourselves, it seems that bullying really does work to the benefit of the bully and to the detriment of those targeted. It’s unpleasant to think about, surely, but how else are we to describe a state of affairs in which might alone makes right? Other conceptions of morals or ethics seem outdated when faced with this raw exercise of power unchecked by anything but their own limited constraints.
Take Hugo Boss, a fashion line with a history of picking trademark fights, regardless of the actual merits. In this instance, the company is taking on an artist and fashion designer in Liverpool named John Charles. Charles has created his own line of clothes featuring the phrase “Be Boss, Be Kind” with the “Boss” part obviously the imperative drawing Hugo Boss’ ire. On its face you might see some merit to the company’s objections: it’s clothing, which is the same field (albeit at entirely different levels) and the pairing of “boss” with clothing at least raises a flag or two.
Of course, it turns out “boss” has nothing to do with Hugo, or even clothes. Those whose consumption of British culture ventures beyond the plummy tones of The Crown or the BBC will probably have heard the Scouse accent and Scouse slang emerging from Merseyside, with its own meanings. In the parlance of Scouse, “boss” means good or great. Moreover, it turns out that the phrase and the subsequent merchandise comes from the art classes Charles was teaching for kids. And to keep things above board, Charles took the step of filing for a trademark on the design.
Fortunately for Charles, Hugo Boss hasn’t taken the step of pursuing a suit against him, merely indicating that it would be filing a “Notice of Threated Opposition” against his trademark filing. Regardless, Charles shouldn’t have to worry about even that; Higo Boss can’t claim ownership over the word “boss” in any and every instance, despite their efforts to do just that. The metric is broadly meant to be whether a mark creates brand and consumer confusion with an existing mark, and it’s hard to see how Charles’ merchandise is attempting to pass itself off as Hugo Boss, particularly in a region where “boss” carries more meaning than any brand could hope to achieve.
Nevertheless, John Charles is not an international brand, but rather a father and artist from the northeast of England, so it’s hard to imagine that he’ll prevail in this case, regardless of merit. It turns out that being a bully pays off when there’s no one with the power or the willingness to push back against you.