Last week, Simone Kelly-Brown, CEO of Own Your Power Communications, Inc. sued Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Productions for trademark infringement. Kelly-Brown’s complaint says that her company owns a trademark on the phrase “Own Your Power” as well as the acronym “OYP.” Both the phrase and the acronym represent the concept that a person can “live their best life” if he or she believes that “anything you want is attainable.” Kelly-Brown’s motivational services company uses the OYP slogan to promote the company’s services.  

Kelly-Brown cites the first misuse of the trademark as the October 2010 issue of O Magazine with “Own Your Power” splashed across the front cover. In addition, the related article in the magazine directed readers to the “Own Your Power” section of Further, the complaint cites that Oprah and Own Your Power Communications each hosted an “Own Your Power” event in the same city just days apart. This is relevant because it is an example of how the phrases – if used by more than one company – can cause confusion among consumers.

Oprah will likely have the power and money to fight this lawsuit, but Kelly-Brown and her company seem to have a good trademark claim. Because Kelly-Brown’s company has a registered trademark on OYP, it has a legal right to stop others from using that mark that confuses consumers. Since the two marks are identical (both “Own Your Power”) and represent the same meanings, there is a likelihood of confusion – often the hardest element to prove in a trademark infringement claim. Kelly-Brown and Own Your Power Communications will likely succeed on this claim, assuming the parties do not settle out of court.

Another worry for Kelly-Brown is that Oprah plans to launch a new series on her network, OWN, called “Own Your Life.”  Although the two phrases are similar, Kelly-Brown’s company  likely doesn’t have the ability to prevent Oprah from using this title.  More likely, Kelly-Brown filed the lawsuit 1) to seek damages for the past infringement based on the magazine cover, website, and event and 2) to prevent Oprah from adopting the “Own Your Power” slogan in her new series “Own Your Life.”  Kelly-Brown is simply trying to send Oprah a warning before things get too deep.

Although Oprah’s new network has been struggling since its launch this past January, she is still one of the most powerful people in the world. Kelly-Brown even acknowledges this in her complain, describing the irreparable harm her company has suffered with Harpo being much larger than her company and having “one of the most influential women in the world at the helm.”  At least Kelly-Brown understands what she is getting herself into.

– Megan LaDriere

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