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Café Hon owner to give up trademark

Café Hon owner to give up trademark

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Poke it with a fork, because it looks like the controversy over “HON” is done.

Denise Whiting

Denise Whiting, the embattled owner of Café Hon in Hampden, said Monday she will give up the registered trademark she has on the word “HON.” Whiting added she did not fully appreciate the “passion” Baltimoreans have for the term of endearment.

“Please forgive me for everything that I’ve done,” Whiting said on the radio broadcast. “I am taking that piece of paper that says [‘HON’] is registered [and] I will just take it off the register.”

Her announcement on the MIX 106.5 morning radio show came after a weekend meeting with Chef Gordon Ramsay, host of the Fox television show “Kitchen Nightmares” on which he offers advice to restaurateurs.

Ramsay apparently convinced Whiting that her trademark was not worth the trouble.

But intellectual property attorney James B. Astrachan said the trademark might not have been worth the paper it was printed on.

The trademark protection for such a well-worn phrase would never have held up in court — despite having the imprimatur of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — if Whiting had sought to enforce it, said Astrachan, of Astrachan Gunst Thomas Rubin PC of Baltimore.

“No one has a right to ‘HON,’” he said. “It’s a Baltimore expression.”

The term “hon,” especially in Baltimore, is generic and descriptive and thus courts would not permit it to be held by one person, he added.

“I think the word was always available for anybody to use, for almost any purpose,” said Astrachan, who also chairs The Daily Record’s independent Editorial Advisory Board.

Whiting’s attorney, Ned T. Himmelrich, declined to address how he would have sought to enforce the “HON” trademark had a case arisen.

“From her perspective, the discussion is over,” said Himmelrich, who heads the intellectual property/technology group at Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander LLC in Baltimore. “She said she is giving up her claims to ‘HON,’ so there is no reason to talk about what rights she may or may not have in it.”

Astrachan said Whiting would have lost more than a court case had she ever sought to enforce her trademark.

“If she starts suing people, she’s going to have to decide if she wants to run a restaurant with no customers,” Astrachan said.

Whiting, during her radio appearance, said she did lose customers during the year-long controversy as Baltimoreans were angry at her for trying to monopolize their beloved term.

“I just want to say I am so sorry for the animosity and the hatred and everything that trademarking a word, just a word, has done,” Whiting said. “Now I get it. I get it in a huge way.”

The controversy ignited last year when her earlier trademark registration of “HON” came to light — first in negotiations with the Maryland Transit Administration over its CharmCard campaign and when she supplied merchandise to a charity event and charged a catering company $25 for a licensing agreement.

Whiting said she meant no harm by her “misstep” and hopes the city residents she “ticked off” give her another chance.

“‘Hon’ is in our hearts. It’s a term of endearment. It embodies the spirit, the passion” of Baltimore, she added. “It was never mine to have in the first place.”

Ramsay, the restaurant adviser who appeared on the radio broadcast with Whiting, said Café Hon suffered from an image problem, not a kitchen problem.

“The conflict outside the restaurant was far greater than the conflict inside the restaurant,” Ramsay said.

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