A colleague forwarded me this item about Half Price Books suing Barnes & Noble over BN’s use of the term HALF PRICE BOOKS, with the subject heading “How Dumb Is This?” I was prepared to write back and say “Somewhat dumb” but then I read the article which said that Half Price Books is a pretty large chain. I did a trademark search and sure enough, Half Price owns a registration for HALF PRICE BOOKS, RECORDS, MAGAZINES claiming thirty years of use. While a bookseller could use the term HALF PRICE to fairly describe its prices, given that HALF PRICE is descriptive and not a generic term for books (as opposed to, for example, USED BOOKS or REMAINDERED BOOKS), if Half Price can establish secondary meaning, and if a third party is uisng the term as a trademark, then there is a colorable claim.
p.s. If a client has been using a mark like HALF PRICE BOOKS for thirty years, then I don’t fault it for protecting the name. On the other hand, clients are best advised to use names that have some initial scintilla of distinctiveness (<- ironic understatement indicator light on).