An attempt to trademark a logo with "hon" and the Oriole "O" creates another hontroversy

When Marco Gentile, the Orioles' vice-president for corporate partnerships, saw a new design for hats and t-shirts being sold in the midst of 2014 pennant fever his response was immediate.

"That's not good," said Gentile, a Baltimore native. "That's not good at all."

The image, now before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for approval, shows the word "Hon" with the letter O in the exact shape as those on the front of the team's uniforms.

The designer selling the hats ($25) and t-shirts ($20) is a local on-line "street wear" company called Defiant AD, which claims their apparel is "for people who set trends, not follow them."

Local journalist Bruce Goldfarb broke the "Hontroversy Part Two" story on Sept. 18 on his website Welcome to Baltimore, Hon!

Wrote Goldfarb: "On Sept. 9, the U.S Patent and Trademark Office published for opposition a trademark for a HON-based design and word. Baltimore designer Thaddeus Stamps filed a registration for a trademark on Nov. 1, 2012, about three months after records indicate that he first used the design commercially."

Defiant AD did not respond to a City Paper interview request made through its website.

"They'll definitely" receive a cease and desist order, said Gentile, noting that the team deals with trademark violations "a lot."

It is not lost on some Orioles fans—particularly baseball die-hards who suffered through 14 losing seasons between 1998 and 2011—that this is what comes with success. The team clinched the American League East title on September 17 for the first time since 1997 and at press time was in first place by more than a dozen games.

"Nothing like this would have happened when they were losing," said Raymond D. Burke, a Baltimore attorney who writes poetic essays about baseball and its connection to family. "This year they blew away the division."

And then there's that beloved three letter word of provincial endearment: Hon.

As ingenious as it was to combine Hon with the stylized Orioles "O" (makes you wonder why the team didn't think of it first), once again someone has tried to lay legal claim to a word considered sacred to generations of Baltimoreans.

"I'm disturbed when people claim exclusive use," said Burke. "Hon should not be subject to commercialization. It doesn't belong to any one person."

Denise Whiting, the owner of Cafe Hon in Hampden, learned the hard way in 2010 that while the locals will put up with unbelievable amounts of crap to live proudly in Crabtown, they will not have their culture poached for profit.

When The Sun reported on the front page that Whiting had trade-marked the word "hon" (not just Cafe Hon, the name of her business but "hon" itself) the poop hit the propeller.

There was picketing and protests, boycotts, ugly threats, restraining orders and out-of-town media coverage. I slammed Whiting pretty hard, calling her "Robert Irsay in a Dress" in an essay published in northbaltimorepatch.com (no longer available).

[If you don't know who Robert Irsay is, you are not privileged to use the word "hon" in any context.]

There was so much carrying on that a reality TV show came by to help Whiting straighten out the mess before a national audience, a high-profile move that was also seen as profiteering. Ultimately Whiting very publicly relinquished the copyright during a segment on Mix 106.5 promoting the reality show.

Earlier this year, long after the vitriol had passed, I got word through a mutual friend that Whiting wanted to meet for coffee. I agreed and we met early one morning at Atwater's in Belvedere Square.

I did not know Whiting and was not sure what she wanted to discuss. It turned out to be nothing specific. She just wanted to talk and meet one of the people who had given her such a hard time. Our conversation was pleasant and at times emotional. Whiting acknowledged making some bad decisions and said she never—not ever—wanted to experience anything like it again. 

So, once they get off the phone with their lawyers, Thaddeus Stamps and his crew at Defiant AD might want to get a burger at Cafe Hon and see if the owner has a few moments to chat.

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