You might think nobody had a patent on the historic Tea Party name. Think again. Zachary Roth on the Tea Party Patriots’ legal saber-rattling—the grassroots movement’s latest growing pain.
By Zachary Roth | The Daily Beast
The name “Tea Party” is among the most venerable in U.S. political history—dating back to the legendary Boston event in 1773, when American colonists dumped tea bags into the Boston Harbor to protest the long arm of the British monarchy. So it’s more than a little ironic that the Tea Party’s latter-day descendants, the Tea Party Patriots born in 2009, would turn to an intellectual property lawyer in a zealous bid to defend the rights to their name.
In May, a Tea Party group in Georgia’s Golden Isles region received an email from the website Zazzle.com, informing the group that bumper stickers it had been selling on the site had been removed, thanks to a trademark infringement claim made on behalf of Tea Party Patriots Inc. by Kevin Grierson, a lawyer with FSB FisherBroyles. No anti-establishment rabble this: FSB’s clients include American Express, Morgan Stanley, Porsche, and Toll Brothers, the home-building behemoth.
Grierson, who’s based in Virginia, is an experienced intellectual property specialist and sits on the board of the National Association of Patent Practitioners, a patent-law trade group. “I can’t comment on any of my clients’ activities,” he told The Daily Beast.
The Golden Isles group was taken aback. “They made a big stink,” William Temple, an activist with the group, told The Daily Beast, referring to Tea Party Patriots. “We all thought it was silly, ridiculous.” Temple added that the episode had made his group less willing to work with the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella organization for Tea Party groups. “A lot of us now are just going around them, and somewhat fed up with them.”
Umbrella groups like Tea Party Patriots, said Temple, “have become jealous and protective of what they think is theirs.” He added: “It’s all about maintaining control.” It’s also one more growing pain for a grass-roots movement that is expanding in influence—and undergoing the inevitable factionalism and fights over authenticity that go along with its maturation.