The Lones Group Trademark Infringement Suit and Brand Suicide, and Why understanding Internet Culture Matters

By Drew Meyers on February 26, 2011

Obligatory Disclaimer:  I am not an attorney, in any way, shape or form.  I consider Daniel Rothamel and his family (also parties to the lawsuit I’m about to discuss) personal friends. And until today, I had never heard of The Lones Group (although I have been around the Seattle real estate scene for about 6 years). Furthermore, I have no idea if they are good at what they do – that’s not the point. Finally, what follows is simply my personal opinion.

Before l I start (my rant), a brief recap of the news that hit today — The Lones Group Inc filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Daniel Rothamel and his family brokerage, Strong Team Realtors, for infringing on their “Zebra Report” and “Zebra Blog”. Supposedly, Lones Group and Strong Team Realtors are in direct competition (even though they are 3,000 miles away) and the fact that Daniel has been known as the Real Estate Zebra for the last 5 years is “unfairly diverting business” from Lones Group. They are asking for $75,000 in damages. Here is the Inman News article: ‘Real Estate Zebra’ hit with trademark suit.

In my eyes, The Lones Group just destroyed their reputation with a single strike of their pen and a court filing on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I think it’s safe to say the Lones Group had no clue what deep public crap they’d get themselves into by filing this lawsuit against a blogger as well known and respected as Daniel Rothamel (the real Real Estate Zebra), who has hundreds and hundreds of friends (all of whom have blogs and Twitter accounts) all across the country. Doing what they just did is PURE brand suicide in today’s social media world. A single quote, link, or picture can reach millions of eyeballs within minutes. Like it or not, that is the way our intertwined world operates. Companies can operate within that framework, or cease to exist. And Lones Group is now suffering the consequences. You would think an Internet Marketing Company would know this?

FEAR of competition is completely unhealthy compared to competition itself. Here’s an idea for the Lones Group. Instead of filing a trademark lawsuit because you are scared, you should have done things SUCH AS the following:

  • Put “Zebra” in your title tag of your blog
  • Connected with a few real estate bloggers over the past 5 years in the social media space
  • Put the word “Zebra” in the header of your blog
  • Place your blog on your own domain name instead of using WordPress.com

The Lones Group  lost the online fight for the Zebra brand name (if there ever was one) in the ONLINE real estate space. The fact that someone would rather file a lawsuit rather than figure out how to settle their matter privately is a disgrace. But, hey, maybe that’s just me. To win in life and business, you’ve got to show up. And if you lose? Learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t file a stupid lawsuit; it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. As I’d said before, business and life comes down to execution. Daniel succeeded with branding himself. The Lones Group didn’t.

Competition should be motivation for you to get better. Not motivation for taking legal action.

Last, but not least, if you want to help Daniel defend himself, you can donate to his defense fund at ZebraDefenseFund.com. All extra proceeds will go to charity.

#savethezebra

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  • Kevin

    I think what you and Jay are doing is just a low-brow as the Lones Group. For all of us in the know you are stuffing google w stuff to make the Lones group pay w/internet currency. What is called what you are doing?

    I think in your quest to protect a bud—you are doing so at the expense of your integrity. #justsayin.

  • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com drewmeyers

    Kevin-
    Do you agree with this lawsuit?

    Am I sticking up or a friend? Yes. But I meant every word I wrote in this post. And I wouldn’t never recommend anybody work with a company that would file a crazy lawsuit like this to a person like Daniel. I think future potential clients should know what type of company they are.

    Read my post here – http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com/2010/12/31/tyler-and-cameron-winklevoss-re-opening-the-facebook-lawsuit/
    I wrote that post 3 months ago about the exact same type of situation. And I assure you, I was not sticking up for ANYONE with that post. Lawsuits like this make me sick to my stomach, no matter if I know the person being targeted or not. And when the person being targeted is a guy like Daniel? Yea, then that’s even worse.

  • Kevin

    no. I don’t. And I agree. But what I despise is the bullying you guys are doing. She may have a reason and it is her right to file the suit. Even Marlow (in the Inman article) was confused—-did you read that?

    You guys are out to teach her a Google lesson and you are taking part in bullying her yourself. So is Jay.

    Support your friend. But keep your integrity.

  • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com drewmeyers

    I’m big on trust and gut feel. I’ve known Daniel for several years and trust that he hasn’t done something personally to warrant this lawsuit. If he did something crazy, stupid, or blatant – sure, MAYBE this lawsuit should have been filed. But I don’t believe Daniel is that type of person.

    I don’t know Denise. If her reasoning becomes public, I’m happy to update this post with a link to it.

    Bottom line: this country is wayyyy too trigger happy when it comes to lawsuits. I despise the people that use a lawsuit as a way to make money (and waste everyone’s time and $$) when they can’t execute to legitimately to make money.

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  • http://twitter.com/KitsapAgent Rich Jacobson

    Ultimately, the courts will determine the outcome of this situation, at least the legalities, if it does in fact go to court. But long-term, the realities are that The Lones Group has seriously damaged their reputation and any future business potential they may have had by pursuing this lawsuit against Daniel. They are suing a potential client, not a competitor. Daniel started blogging long before they did. To suggest that their business has been adversely affected by Daniel’s use of a zebra in his branding is a far reach. As Jay points out, they’re 3000 miles apart, serving completely different clients in completely different market segments. But irregardless of whether the lawsuit has merit, we operate in a new business culture now days – the glass house of social media. It can be brutally honest, but I certainly wouldn’t consider it ‘bullying’ by any means. The leveraged power of social media can bring about positive influence and change. In this instance, what most of us hope, is for The Lones Group to reconsider pursuing legal action, and drop their lawsuit. Again, they have every right to file a lawsuit. Whether it is the most wise and prudent action, or serves their best long-term interests is a matter of debate.

  • http://www.peterbrewer.com/ Peter Brewer

    Awesome post Drew!. I had a few words to say about this stupid situation at http://peterbrewer.com

  • http://www.rerockstar.com Matt Stigliano – @rerockstar

    Kevin – I don’t think it’s low brow to have an opinion and express it publicly. It’s what we do everyday online. Is it “stuffing google” or is it blogging? Jay has never been shy about saying what’s on his mind and backing up a) friends and b) what he thinks is right. I’m on the side of Drew and Jay on this one (obviously) – the lawsuit will be sorted out in the court system, but the implications of such a lawsuit are huge in the social media world and an industry such as ours. Word travels fast, particularly among bloggers.

  • http://210consulting.com/ Jeremy Blanton

    I think what we might need is some major RT fests on these 2 posts and that should make them stick pretty well at #1 & 2.

  • http://AnnArborRealEstateTalk.com Missy Caulk

    Thanks for sharing your opinion on this Drew, your passion comes through. I like Jeremy’s suggestion since Google is not using Search in their results.

    Let’s hope Ms. Lones has the courage to drop this and learns the power of Social Media.

  • http://jphilip.com J Philip Faranda

    I wonder what sort of lawyer would even acquiesce to represent a plaintiff in a case like this.

  • http://jphilip.com J Philip Faranda

    I see your point about restraint Kevin but wouldn’t you think that people who claim to have started the real estate marketing revolution would understand the blowback, or at least know who it was they were filing suit against? I think “just as lowbrow” would be filing a frivolous suit against the current plaintiffs.

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  • http://twitter.com/KitsapAgent Rich Jacobson
  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    Sadly, most of them. Countless attorneys are just money-sucking integrity-free dogs who hide behind “It’s my obligation to give my most aggressive, unmitigated ‘efforts’ on my clients’ behalf”.

  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    This is disgusting bullying, and instead of running to their greedy lawyer,
    they should have told their webmaster to put up or shut up.

    I wonder if they recently woke up to the web, or at least found a renewed interest,,
    and hired a new web consultant who told them to go after Rothamel.

    People of Seattle: YOU have the most impact here, web or not.
    Don’t be silent, or it will happen to you next.

  • http://virtualresults.net Jim Marks

    Bullying? Hardly. Kevin, this is what Social Media IS…

    When you create a public action… I get to comment on it.. No more? No
    less. Then YOU get to comment on it. The world is taking place in public
    and you are becoming responsible for your actions…

    Social Media is a Democracy. If the Lones Group BELIEVES in what they are
    doing, come here and tell us why… That simple.

    This is not Bullying. It is proper use of the Media Landscape we now live
    in. If I do something that you feel is inappropriate, I EXPECT you to call
    me out…

    Oh, you did.

    Great Job.

  • Kevin

    It is bullying. Joe Ferrera would have handled this MUCH differently and with great insight. What is going on here is nothing but Google revenge (see Jeremy Blanton’s comments).

    I just call it as I see it. @chrisbrogan, the professional that HE IS, wrote a perfect post….kind of like what I think @jfsellsius would have done.

    This is a joke. This is not social media. This is bullying on a blog.

  • David Losh

    So far today Kevin has made the most sense. In the firestorm of wanting to help Daniel the social media, what ever that is, has tried to intimidate a resolution with threats, insults, and petty chiding.

  • Kevin

    This is the intimidation part that makes it wrong, wrong wrong:

    >>>Lesson: Pissing off people who know a thing or two about SEO (and are friends with a TON of others who know a thing or two about SEO)? Not smart.<<

    Why isn't anyone discussing the merits of the case. The issues. Instead y'all are acting like Vikings. And if this IS Social Media—I want to have nothing to do with this. At all. Ok. I'm going back to selling real estate.
    Daniel—for what it's worth…I'm sorry you have to go through this. Don't let all this blather take you down a road without forethought and good, sound LEGAL advice.

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  • Jimmarks

    Kevin, this is OUR blog. We get to write what we want here… If we feel passionate about something then write it… pretty simple. WE, just as the Lone Group, WILL suffer the consequences of our actions.

    We DONT get to choose how you feel about it, or how you might react to it. That is your call.

    Drew is an author on this blog. He felt passionate about this and wrote a post. simple.

    What you call professionalism? I call waffling. Fence sitting.

    As far as WWJD (What would Joe do?) THAT conversation should not take place around something as trivial and meaningless as our blog, THAT conversation should take place over a beer and with nothing but tears and laughter. Joe was Joe. Who KNOWS what he would have done. God Bless Him.

  • http://twitter.com/margaritaday Margarita Day

    Sad to see this happening, Daniel is such a nice guy with no ill intentions towards anyone.

  • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com drewmeyers

    That statement was just stating a fact, Kevin. You know as well as I do that SEO people are not the people you want in your bad corner. They never have been, and never will be. This has been proved over and over during the course of the last 5+ years online.

    This is really quite simple – “people who know SEO” are really no different than any common Sue or Joe anywhere in the world; they just have a bigger microphone. It’s the same reason celebrities like George Clooney get more publicity for voicing their opinion on a topic like Sudan than if Fred down the street does – their microphone is exponentially larger. Now, does someone with a big microphone have to think more about what they say? Yes. But does the fact that they have a big microphone mean they aren’t free to voice their opinions publicly? I don’t believe so. We have freedom of speech for a reason.

    Like it or not, that’s just the way the world works. Being in the marketing industry, the Lones Group should have known that going into this.

    I look forward to that scotch on the rocks (on you) next time we see each other in person. I’m sure looking back at this, we’ll share a few laughs on our debate here. You and I both have strong opinions. And, at the end of the day, that’s a good thing. If we didn’t have any opinions on anything, we wouldn’t really be very interesting people now would we? And we would probably have nothing to talk about other than the weather.

  • GailSusan

    This is brand suicide for The Lones Group. Their business is marketing and their clients are real estate agents. They clearly aren’t savvy about social media and they’ve turned a lot of real estate agents against them by suing another agent. The Lones Group may win the lawsuit (I don’t know the details), but does it matter if it results in a significant loss of business? This is a battle between the power of social media vs. the power of the traditional legal system. This is why it’s garnered so much interest.

  • http://twitter.com/Gail5 Gail5

    This is brand suicide for The Lones Group. Their business is marketing and their clients are real estate agents. They clearly aren’t savvy about social media and they’ve turned a lot of real estate agents against them by suing another agent. The Lones Group may win the lawsuit (I don’t know the details), but does it matter if it results in a significant loss of business? This is a battle between the power of social media vs. the power of the traditional legal system. This is why it’s garnered so much interest.

  • http://www.fillthefunnel.com/ Miles Austin

    Drew, You had me in full agreement until you moved to what I perceive as bullying. Disappointed you went down that path.

  • http://210consulting.com/ Jeremy Blanton

    Kevin- I don’t see this as bullying either. I see this as people who believe in a cause and are willing to work as hard as they can for a cause. The Lones Group is a marketing firm. They should be able to dominate the first page of Google for their own brand name. If someone like Drew or Jay write something they (Lones) shouldn’t need to work hard to replace it with their own content. I mean unless Drew and Jay reference the LONES group in continual posts from this day forward and link to their original post, then it won’t take long for these to fall off of page 1. The problem is that their revolution doesn’t know how to make that happen.

    The other point I want to make is that as them being a revolutionary marketing company, they would already know the repercussions of onilne media and what could come about by entering into the suit. They have every right to file a suit against Daniel for what they feel is right. On that same token, we have every right to express our opinions as to what we feel is wrong in their lawsuit.

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  • Fly4vino

    She may have the “right” to file the lawsuit but that doesn’t mean it is right. It’s a popular form of thuggery engaged by too many people who sue first and gather facts later. For a small firm it means interference with their business, perhaps interference with their ability to obtain fnanancing and capital and the neccessary expenditure of costs to reply.

    Mark McCormack had it right, the person who employs an ass for an attorney is by definition an ass.

  • FrancesFlynnTho

    Kevin makes excellent points. This is more than bullying on a blog. Many of the people involved in this discussion are Realtors and much of the discussion is clobbering the Realtor Code of Ethics this weekend. I “get it” that vendors and social media geeks think they can say anything they want. Increasingly, they model behavior that flies in the face of Realtor Ethics and they will pay a big price for it in the days ahead, I assure you!

    I don’t think the weekend’s engagement about this matter honors Daniel. Daniel Rothamel is a very classy guy. You think this nonsense helps his brand? I doubt that anyone who finds himself becoming the poster child for a band of cyber bullies will see his brand enhanced.

    Chris Brogan wrote an excellent post. Kevin is spot on. I’ve been fielding telephone calls and e-mails all weekend. People are appalled at the attacks and reluctant to put themselves into the line of fire. Thank goodness for Kevin and a few thoughtful souls who are not afraid to chime in and share a dissenting voice.

  • Kevin

    of course a bully has never said “oh, you are right, I’ma bully. This is Jim’s Blog. And Drew “likes” Jim’s post. This is high school bullying. Further it’s interesting how the tide may be turning on you guys.

    Do any of you know the merits of the case? You think you have the power to pillage and “take down” the Lones lady without even considering HER case. There is no civil discourse here. This is just bad.

    And Jim have YOUR blog. I think your BLOG and “brand” and “reputation” may very well may be stained after this ditty. There is a lot of off blog chatter to that effect.

    You don’t have to block me. I’m going back to work. I sell…I REALLY sell real estate.

    Good night Greg…oh, I mean Jim.

  • http://www.drewmeyersinsights.com drewmeyers

    Hey Miles-
    You’re right. I took the wrong approach with this post. I’ve just posted an update – http://virtualresults.net/clarifications-lones-group-post-friday/

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.ingersoll Sam Ingersoll

    Bullies use their power to unfairly make other people do what they want them to do. The only thing bullies respond to is someone or something with greater power.

    Big corporations, bureaucrats, the affluent — are able to hide behind policies, legal structures, and their cash. Social media and SEO give the little guys some power to fight back. Even if that power is not great enough to overcome the bully the power used against them may make them and others think twice about similar actions in the future – and even if they don’t – the “punishing” of the bully for his aggression is not unwarranted.

    When is was in 3rd grade, Bobby would beat me and Chad Griego up before and after school. He stopped when finally we’d had enough and I held his arms while Chad punched him repeatedly.

    No teachers, no other kids, no passers-by, and no “respectable real estate agents” helped us.

    If someone is unaware of a bully’s actions…or has no means to do anything…then that’s fine. But to state that the people who are standing up to the bully as “low brow” and “vikings” and “just as bad” smacks of something else — cowardice, opportunistic positioning, or perhaps a naivete about how the world works.

    Someone called what folks are doing “threats, insults, and petty chiding.” Well, what the heck do you think lawsuits and lectures on “reputation” are. Please. Call it what you want.

    This is about the exercise of power against an aggressor. Anyone who fights back against a bully and makes them suffer has my respect.

  • http://virtualresults.net Jim Marks

    Kevin,

    1) Clarification… Its the VR blog, and Drews post.

    2) I read EVERY word of the suit and as I stated earlier consulted an
    attorney.

    3) Tide? I speak my mind and take my licks. I prefer life that way.

    4) You said “of course a bully has never said “oh, you are right, I’ma
    bully.” I think Drew may prove you wrong… He recently chatted me and
    asked for my opinion…” Drew is a stand up guy. He does that right thing.

    5) The only one doing ANY name calling on this blog? (insert mirror) WWJD.

    6) Block? We have never blocked anyone… ever.

  • http://virtualresults.net Jim Marks

    Kevin,

    1) Clarification… Its the VR blog, and Drews post.

    2) I read EVERY word of the suit and as I stated earlier consulted an
    attorney.

    3) Tide? I speak my mind and take my licks. I prefer life that way.

    4) You said “of course a bully has never said “oh, you are right, I’ma
    bully.” I think Drew may prove you wrong… He recently chatted me and
    asked for my opinion…” Drew is a stand up guy. He does that right thing.

    5) The only one doing ANY name calling on this blog? (insert mirror) WWJD.

    6) Block? We have never blocked anyone… ever.

  • http://www.fillthefunnel.com/ Miles Austin

    Drew, great to see a more reasoned response. This will serve as a study in the good, the bad and the ugly of Social Media and its impact. This Social Media animal (no pun intended) is still fairly young and yet to be developed. Most of us still have the training wheels on. I hope that both parties in this have the common sense to talk, and listen to each other. There is clearly a common ground that could be explored here and I recommend that they both agree to sit down (virtual or in-person) and figure out how they can both go about their business activities. I am sure that many of us that do not have a favorite in this argument could mediate a reasonable conclusion. I am available if they are interested.

  • http://www.southbeachrealestateblog.com Kevin

    I’ve never said Drew wasn’t a stand up guy. An attorney-friend looked at this post as commented that THE VERY part of Drew’s post that was lined out, could be problematic for Drew/VR from Lones Group perspective.

    I’m done. Toodles.

  • http://twitter.com/KitsapAgent Rich Jacobson
  • http://www.DesertMountainHomesOnline.com CarmenBrodeur

    A Zebra is so generic. It is logical that others will eventually use a similar image to yours when you base your brand on an animal. I don’t think the Lones group stands a chance in court. Daniel is much more recognizable as the real estate zebra than the Lones group.

  • http://www.DesertMountainHomesOnline.com CarmenBrodeur

    This is not about internet bullying. This is about voicing opinions, pure and simple. That is what blogs are all about. If Denise suffers SEO issues as a result of her lawsuit…so be it.

  • http://modificationzoom.com mortgage loan modification

    Why on earth would he offer to get rid of an established domain and significant online brand? I say ya bite the bullet, yeah its a recession but get some money together, fly out to court and slap this dork with the court costs and expenses. You’re hearing law suit but I’m hearing FREE VACATION. Woot!

    Theres no way this should pass summary judgement unless I’m missing something – I mean if the Lones group was to create a wordpress blog called “Bird Talk” one year after Twitter was created, they’d essentially be able to sue Twitter for infringement??! Not in any court of law I know of. Not in this Country. Heck not on this planet.

    I say send the Lones group to Mars to see if its habitable. Along with the law suit.

  • http://modificationzoom.com mortgage loan modification

    The more I read about this the more irritated I’m getting – seems someone already bought http://thelonesgroupsucks.com/ .. wonder if they’ll be sued too.