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Trademark scuffle pits little pink against big pink

Elkhorn business owner Rebekah Doolittle is in what she calls a “David and Goliath situation.”

The “mompreneur” is taking on Victoria’s Secret after an attorney from the lingerie and loungewear retailer sent Doolittle an 18-page petition to cancel the trademark for her startup, ThePinkStore.com.

“I was so confused. I thought ‘What the heck?!’ ” said Doolittle, who started her e-commerce business in 2011. “We’re a retail holding spot for pink products and we happened to come up with the name The Pink Store … I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry.”

The petition from Victoria’s Secret cites numerous concerns with Doolittle’s trademark, including its concern that consumers might confuse Doolittle’s store with the Victoria’s Secret Pink product line.

The Chicago law firm that filed the petition for cancellation on behalf of Victoria’s Secret said it could not comment on pending petitions.

After receiving the petition in mid-December, Doolittle was contacted early this week about making a decision regarding Victoria’s Secret’s action. Doolittle has two options: give up her trademark or file another response with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Doolittle said she wasn’t willing to give up her trademark and went to social media to spread the word about her legal battle with Victoria’s Secret.

She wrote a poem and posted it on her business’s Facebook page on Feb. 9, saying:

“My Dear Victoria, The Secret is out,
Neither bras nor panties are what pink’s all about!
Keep ‘Pink’ on your clothing we don’t really mind.
But going after our trademark is rude and unkind.
So find in your heart this Valentine’s Day —
if you truly ‘Love Pink’ make this mess go away.”

“It really just hits home,” Doolittle said. “Yes, I can operate my store without a trademark, but then I lose some of the legal rights to my name. The reason I trademarked it was so that I could grow.”

Doolittle received her trademark registration from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last May for the name The Pink Store.

She came up with the idea for The Pink Store after losing her job during the economic downturn in 2009. At the time, she and her husband had three boys and Doolittle craved more pink in her life, so she decided to start an online store selling, well, everything pink. The Pink Store sells products ranging from baby booties and men’s neckties to watches and dresses — all of which are pink.

“My goal is to grow it to be the Amazon of everything pink ,” she said. “So when you think of something pink you check out ThePinkStore.com.”

Legal battles like this are difficult for small businesses, said Brett Stohs, a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law.

“Whenever I hear of a large corporation filing a lawsuit against a startup, my first thought goes to the expense that the startup is going to have to deal with,” said Stohs, the director of UNL’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic. “This seems like a real unfortunate thing for a company that doesn’t have an in-house legal department.”

In situations like this there’s only so much a small business can do before it wastes precious time and money, Stohs said. But getting the attention of customers on social media is free and could maybe even encourage a large corporation to back down.

On Feb. 13, Doolittle posted a letter on Facebook that one of her customer sent to Victoria’s Secret:

“I have unsubscribed from your emails and will not step foot in a store or online until you stop harassing small businesses like thepinkstore.com. It’s a shame that a company that depends upon women would go after Ms. Doolittle like this. Perhaps you should celebrate women and their success instead. The only pink I will be purchasing is from thepinkstore.com.
P.S. Molly Ringwald called. She wants her color back.”

Doolittle said she hasn’t received any comments from Victoria’s Secret since she posted her poem on Facebook. She and her attorney are filing a response outlining a way for both companies to keep their trademarks and, hopefully, coexist.

In the meantime, it’s a waiting game. Doolittle said it could take up to two years before the issues is resolved. This lengthy process is frustrating to Doolittle, who said she’d rather use the time to develop her business and be with her family.

“I’m also choosing to fight them on this because I don’t think it’s right,” she said. “I want to stay classy with it, I don’t want to bash Victoria’s Secret, but I’m still frustrated.”

On a more positive note, Doolittle said the whole ordeal is resulting in more online orders at her store as well as higher page views on social media. She joked about sending Victoria’s Secret a thank-you card for the extra business.

“Sometimes the best legal answer is nonlegal,” Stohs said.

Another Pink Store advocate started an ‘I Support The Pink Store’ Facebook page and in four hours more than 500 people liked the page and posted encouraging notes to Doolittle.

“I don’t think people are taking too kindly to this,” said Doolittle with a little laugh. “I can feel the love emanating through all my social media … come this Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t ask for anymore love than that.”