Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Nov 23, 2012

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

Greeting card company Oatmeal Studios is bringing suit against the highly visited webcomic site The Oatmeal and a chain of gift shops featuring the website’s cartoons. 

Recycled Greetings, the parent company of the Papyrus gift shop chain, recently struck a deal with The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman to feature his work on greeting cards. While Recycled Greetings makes the cards, Inman also sells them on his website. 

Now, Oatmeal Studios, which has been creating holiday and greeting cards for over three decades, is filing an infringement lawsuit against both Recycled Greetings and Inman for trademark violation. The Massachusetts-based card company is claiming that the webcomic’s name is too similar to their brand name, potentially confusing people into thinking the two companies are associated or even the same. Oatmeal studios is asking in the lawsuit for The Oatmeal to cease greeting card operations and for Inman to pay damages. 

This will not be the first time Inman has found himself in a legal dispute over his brand’s name. In 2011, Funnyjunk.com made a defamation claim (frequently deemed frivilous in media reports) against Inman for $20,000 over a cartoon image poking fun at the consumer site for selling The Oatmeal cartoons but not crediting Inman. Funnyjunk.com ended up dropping the charges. 

Trademarks and Intellectual Property Law

Under intellectual property law, if a company’s name has a “likelihood of confusion” because of similar names, it can be grounds for a trademark infringement lawsuit. In other words, if one name shares elements of spelling or style to another and would potentially lead to a consumer mistaking one for another, the newer company could be liable to the original for damages. The trademark, however, must be filed with the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO) in order for a infringement claim to be valid. 

In this case, Oatmeal Studios as a legal claim to the name, or to any that are very similar, through a trademark. Whether the name is confusingly similar will be determined in court. 

To read more about trademarks and other types of creative property rights, go to the FreeAdvice Intellectual Property page.