Donald Trump loses 6-year trademark suit against ‘iTrump’ app-maker without a lawyer

By @chelean on
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 15, 2017. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Donald Trump has lost a 6-year legal battle to an amateur musician who did not even have a lawyer to represent him in court. Trumpet player Tom Scharfeld successfully managed to beat the US president in laying claim to the trademark iTrump, the name of his iPhone app.

The Trump Organization has affixed the estate mogul’s last name into almost everything, from its golf courses to its hotels and even to steaks. And so upon hearing that Scharfeld made an app that bears the Trump name, its lawyers moved to stop him from acquiring it. They waged a battle against the 40-year-old musician/engineer for six years. This ultimately proved to be futile.

In January 2011, Scharfeld released his second iPhone app, which he called iTrump, in California. The app is a tutorial for users on how to play a virtual version of a trumpet. He had the foresight to apply for trademark for the name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) a month earlier.

Although his app had nothing to do with the then-future president, Trump’s lawyers only saw that it had the same last five letters. On Jan. 27 of the same year, his then-trademark attorney, James D. Weinberger, sent Scharfeld a cease and desist letter to stop using the iTrump name. Weinberger said the app-maker’s use of the Trump name would cause confusion among consumers, leading them to believe that Scharfeld’s business, Spoonjack LLC, was affiliated with Trump.

“In addition, your company’s use of the iTRUMP mark causes dilution of the famous quality of the TRUMP mark and tarnishes the goodwill and reputation that Mr Trump has built up over many years,” the letter, posted on Forbes, read. Weinberger also demanded that Scharfeld withdraw the application for the trademark.

The letter marked the beginning of a six-year legal battle after Scharfeld, unlike others whom Trump threatened to sue for trademark infringement, refused to back down. He won the fight even without using a lawyer. But he did not stop there.

After his win, he then went on the offensive and sought to seize administrative flaws in previous trademark applications he discovered during his legal battle. He has had three related trademarks owned by Trump cancelled, as well as blocked an attempt by Trump to register a fourth.

“Part of it is that they remained a threat,” he was quoted by Forbes, answering why he did not quit after his first win. “I had already spent a significant time on the issues. It seemed crazy to just walk away.”

On Aug. 4, six years after he received the demand letter, Scharfeld claimed victory. Trump’s legal team withdrew the registration for the Trump trademark.

Even then, they refused to admit defeat. “We didn’t lose; we voluntarily withdraw,” Trump Organization executive BP and Chief Legal Officer Alan Garten emailed Forbes. “Spoonjack’s apps are designed to teach people to play musical instruments. That is completely unrelated to anything we do. We wish them the best of luck with their business.”

The iTrump app is currently available only on Apple iPhone. Scharfeld said he planned to release an Android version of it soon.