Donald Trump has turned himself into a brand over the years, and along the way has registered dozens of trademarks all over the world that play off the name Trump, but one he does not have and will never have is for an app called, “iTrump.”
That is because, after a six-year legal battle, Trump has been trumped by a 40-year-old music teacher, Tom Scharfeld, who acted as his own lawyer to protect the name of an app he had created to teach students how to play the trumpet – and succeed in convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that the law was on his side.
Earlier this month, after a phalanx of Trump lawyers, spent years freely battling in the courts and government offices against Scharfeld, The Trump Organization just gave up.
— AudioSparx (@AudioSparx) August 16, 2017
Scharfeld is an engineer who attended MIT and began playing in jazz ensembles while still in college. He later founded Spoonjack LLC, where he was the only employee.
After playing trombone his entire life, Scharfeld set out to invent an intuitive and playable simulation of the instrument for the iPhone.
He wanted his apps to have a catchy name, so he did some research and found that “bone” was a term used for saxophones, and ‘trump” was a term used for thousands of years for a trumpet.
So in December 2010, Scharfeld registered his trademarks, iBone, and iTrump. He then began selling the apps from the iTunes store for $2,99 each, with artwork that showed a picture of the instrument and keys to play various notes solo or along with recorded music.
About a month later Scharfeld got a legal letter from Donald Trump’s lawyers demanding that he cease and desist from using the name iTrump, and immediately rename his app.
Trump’s lawyers argued that his use of the name would “dilute” the “famous” Trump trademark built over many years for everything from buildings to books to the TV show, “The Apprentice.”
When Scharfeld refused, because he believed Trump was “100 percent wrong,” because the word trump has many meanings, he worked to prove his trumpet app had nothing to do with the mogul, who was about to become a politician and would not create confusion.
Having little money, Scharfeld became his own lawyer. He went to the local law library and did extensive research, studying the forms and rules for the filing of documents.
“When you are representing yourself, it is almost impossible to win, so coming out a winner is one of the great longshots,” New York attorney Harley Lewin told Bloomberg News.
One way to challenge Trump was to show the trademark was in common usage. He showed Trump’s lawyers that in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, trump is a common substitute for trumpet, and is even used in the Bible as a reference for a trumpet.
Trump’s lawyers played dirty. They either would not provide documents that Scharfeld wanted, or they dumped thousands of pages on him all at once to bury him in paperwork.
“They just wanted to waste my time,” Scharfled told Forbes, “and disrupt my business.”
In a hearing before the Trademark office, Scharfeld showed that while his app was focused on music, Donald Trump was not using his name for anything similar.
In 2013, Scharfeld won an early round and Trump began to back off.
“Trump’s lawyers didn’t seem to respect that I could do this,” Scharfeld told Bloomberg. “We won all the claims and defeated those against us.”
By then Scharfeld was angry. He had done a lot of research and discovered that Trump had a lot of trademarks, but his company had not defended many of them, (which the law requires) and others were registered with improper documentation.
His work continues to cause problems for The Trump Organization, which has changed lawyers several times as the legal fight continued.
“We didn’t lose, we voluntarily withdrew,” Trump executive vice president and chief legal officer Alan Garten said in an email to Forbes, noting that Scharfeld’s apps are in fact specifically about playing musical instruments.
“We wish them the best of luck with their business,” added Garten, who declined to say if Trump would oppose any of the other trademark actions Scharfled has now brought.
This month, Tom Scharfeld prevailed in his grueling six-year legal fight against Donald Trump.https://t.co/ykyZlUktVP
— The Daily Record (@MDDailyRecord) August 16, 2017
Scharfeld is now trying to build his San Francisco-based business and plans to release an Android version of iTrump soon.
Scharfeld has learned that whatever he does, he must remain vigilant. “You have to continue to police your mark,” he said. “And they remain a threat.”
So with all his money, power and government influence, this is a battle Trump and his global organization with its armies of lawyers lost.
That is interesting symbolism for what has happened to Trump recently. For all his money, power, connections and bluster, he may also lose his battle to remain president.
When that happens, we will all buy iTrump apps to play taps for Trump’s presidency, and then we will dance a happy jig.