Vienna Startup Named in Trademark Infringement Suit

Ira Glass says company's podcast infringes on name of his program "This American Life."

A Vienna-based tech company has been named in a lawsuit filed by radio personality Ira Glass, who says its podcast — "This American Startup" — infringes the copyright held by his own program for the past 20 years.

The Washington Business Journal reported Friday the suit by Glass claims Immersonal Inc.'s use of the name confuses listeners of his Chicago Public Media program and weakens its brand.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, claims the company is intentionally playing off "This American Life" to deceive consumers and benefit from its name recognition. The case has been transferred to the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

"This American Life," which has operated under that name since 1996, "captures contemporary American culture through an hour of stories that range from fiction to nonfiction and include original monologues, mini-dramas, documentaries, music and interviews," according to the complaint. To see the complaint, click on the PDF in the media player above.

The program, syndicated to more than 500 stations across the country through Public Radio International, reaches more than 1.8 million listeners on the air; online it's downloaded 700,000 times a week, according to the complaint, which includes copies of the four trademark registrations held by the program.

According to its website, "This American Startup" is produced by two members of the team at Immersonal, a startup software company whose products aim to help people "organize their lives and better communicate about where they need or want to be."

The podcast tells, in part, the entreprenuer's story, with programming "dedicated to taking an idea and building a successful business around it," according to the program's Facebook page.

The company first filed for its own trademark for "This American Startup" in March, the complaint says. It began distributing its program in April.

In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused Immersonal's registration, according to the complaint, "because of a likelihood of confusion with the [This American Life] [trade]marks."

The last podcast produced by the group was posted July 14, according to the podcast's site.

The complaint asks Immersonal to discontinue the use of the similar words and phrasing between the two programs and to also abandon its trademark application. 

According to the complaint, Immersonal has refused to change its name and has said it will continue to pursue a trademark for "This American Startup."

The complaint lists five counts against Immersonal, including federal trademark infringement, federal unfair competition, federal trademark dilution, violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act of 1977 and common law fraud and unfair competition.

It asks Immersonal to compensate Chicago Public media for damages, benefits gained from using the name thus far and attorney fees, among other things.

Immersonal could not be reached for comment at press time.

Vienna was the subject of another infringement lawsuit earlier this year, when the Wolf Trap Foundation filed a suit claiming .

It demanded the nonprofit not only change its name, but also pay Wolf Trap for damages and lawyers fees and surrender all signs, labels, ads and materials with the name on it.

After meeting this winter, the two groups reached a settlement that had the Berryville group drop "the" from its organization's name, going by "Barns of Rose Hill" in the future.  

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