The owner of Hampden’s Café Hon issued a written apology Wednesday in an attempt to clear up the furor over the trademark she has of the term “hon.”
Denise Whiting did not apologize for getting a trademark on the word “hon,” and did not say she planned to drop the legal protection she has on the well-known Baltimore term of endearment. Instead, she said she was sorry for comments she made to the media that led to confusion that the trademark would limit people’s right to use the term in conversation.
Whiting said in the statement she took out the trademark to cover merchandise she sells with “hon” on it. She said the trademark applies to specific products and services and does not extend to uses beyond that, including publicly spoken use of the word.
“No one can own a word or stop people from saying it or using it, but I know that some things I said to reporters have many people thinking that I do ‘own’ it — or at least think I do,” Whiting said in the statement. “That’s simply not the case. I know that my trademark is limited in scope and I have failed to convey that in recent comments to the media.”
Whiting’s lawyer, Ned T. Himmelrich, an intellectual properties specialist with Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC, said the controversy boiled down to misunderstanding about trademark law and where the mark began and ended.
“She misspoke and she knows it,” Himmelrich said. “Her rights are limited, but, she does have rights, and everything she’s done has been in accordance with what trademark law allows.”
He said when Whiting opened up her business she then had common law trademark rights associated with the word “hon,” as applied to goods and services, regardless of whether she had registered the mark or not.
“People think that the rights only start after registration, and that’s not the case,” he said. “Registration helps, but you get trademarks based on use, and just using the word, she gained those rights.”
The controversy gained traction when Whiting’s registration of the ‘hon’ trademark came to light — first in negotiations with the Maryland Transit Authority over its Charm Card campaign and when she supplied merchandise to a charity event and charged a catering company $25 for a licensing agreement.
Before that, Himmelrich said Whiting had on only two occasions written letters to businesses she thought might be selling merchandise that could be confused with Café Hon merchandise.
“She’s been very reserved and responsible and has acted well within her rights,” he said.