Oh wait. For the sue-happy out there, let’s start with some disclosures:
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. I have no idea if they are good at what they do, nor do I really care – that’s not the point. Finally, what follows is simply my personal opinion, which I freely admit is biased and slanted due to my relationship with the Rothamel’s. You are also forewarned that this will be an interminably long post”
Lawyers, sheesh. (And no hard feelings to my good friends who are practicing attorneys or aren’t practicing but hold Juris Doctor degrees).
This morning, Inman News (a real estate news organization) posted an article, ‘Real Estate Zebra’ hit with trademark suit. (
This article will slip behind Inman’s pay wall in the next 24 hours Inman is keeping this article on the free side)
To summarize from the Inman article:
Real estate agent and blogger Daniel Rothamel — known for years to his readers as the “Real Estate Zebra” — has been hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit by a company that produces a “Zebra Report” and “Zebra Blog” to market its services to real estate agents.
Bellingham, Wash.-based The Lones Group Inc. claims its use of zebra-themed imagery and trademarks predates Rothamel’s, and that he is “unfairly diverting business” away from the company.
In a complaint filed Tuesday against Rothamel and his brokerage, Strong Team Realtors Inc., The Lones Group seeks an injunction restraining Rothamel and the brokerage from using “in any manner” the trademarks The Zebra Blog or The Zebra Report, “and any other term or terms likely to cause confusion,” including “Real Estate Zebra.”
The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, including an award for damages equal to three times the amount of actual damages. (Note: I removed the link to The Lones Group. Bad reporting. So sue me.)
My first thought was, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me,” followed swiftly by, “Who the hell is The Lones Group?”
So I did a little research.
My first stop was the legal complaint filed by The Lones Group. It states:
Lones is a preeminent source of electronic publishing and weblog (“blog”) services in the field of real estate. Lones is well known for its distinctive trade dress used in connection with these services (the “Lones Trade Dress”), which features an image of a zebra and zebra stripes.
Lones is also well known for its family of trademarks, THE ZEBRA BLOG and THE ZEBRA REPORT (the “Lones Marks”) used in connection with its electronic publishing and blog services.
Now of course I am not personally familiar with every source of electronic publishing and blog services in the field of real estate. I am familiar with a LOT of them, and admit I was somewhat surprised that I had absolutely zero prior knowledge of such a “preeminent” and “well known source” of real estate blog services. Never even heard them mentioned before. But hey, I’ve only been a real estate blogger for almost six years, so I can’t know all the preeminent players in the space.
My first thought on reading the “about” section of the complaint was that Daniel Rothamel and the Strong Team Realtors aren’t even close to being competitors of The Lones Group. Daniel and his brokerage are not a source of electronic publishing and blog services in the field of real estate. They are real estate agents and brokers, who help people buy and sell real estate. The Lones Group sells things to real estate agents. Plus, Daniel and team are in Virginia, The Lones Group is in Belllingham, Washington. They are 2,869 miles apart (I looked it up).
This was not computing.
Next stop on the trail was The Lones Group web site. (I’m still not linking to it. It’s number 1 “for now” on Google for “The Lones Group”, “The Lones Group Inc”, “Lones Group” and similar terms if you really want to see it.)
According to their about page, “The Lones Group started the Real Estate marketing revolution… and we are darn proud of it!”. Wow. Honestly I didn’t even know there was a “Real Estate marketing revolution”. Silly me, I though real estate agents and brokerages had been marketing themselves since time immemorial. I suppose you could call the somewhat recent usage of real estate blogs and social media a “marketing revolution”. Whatever.
Denise Lones, the President of the Lones Group, has a background in real estate sales but is now apparently, “focused on training others how to provide top-notch customer service as well as restructuring their businesses to efficiently use their time and effectively market their services to potential clients.” Herein lies some remarkable irony. Not only does the Lones Group not compete with Strong Team Realtors, a real estate brokerage, they and their agents are potential clients of the Lones Group. Seems odd to me to sue a potential client. Particularly one as widely known and respected in the real estate social media space as Daniel Rothamel.
And surely, since they started the real estate marketing revolution, the Lones Group is well aware of the impact of social media on real estate.
The Social Media Melt Down – The Lones Group Kills a brand/name in an afternoon
Since the Inman article was released, there has been a flurry of commentary on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. The vast majority of that activity involves incredulous reactions. Daniel Rothamel is a champion among men. He is one of the brightest, caring and most giving individuals I know. And I am not alone in this assessment. When you read things in the legal complaint like, “Defendants’ (Rothamel and Strong Team) conduct was and is calculated to cause injury to Plaintiff (The Lones Group) in the State of Washington” anyone that is even remotely familiar with Daniel and his family know that nothing could be further from the truth. “Was and is calculated to cause injury”?? I don’t give a shit if that’s “legal speak” or not, it’s insulting and so far from the truth it is ludicrous.
When this whole mess started, there was a crazy number of people saying, “Who is The Lones Group and what is their problem?” Here are some examples from a Twitter search:
“It is an excellent way for the Lones Group to establish themselves as a hated name in the RE industry though”
“the Lones group must be hurting for money and I’ve never heard if then either”
“Lones describes their client base after they are done with the lawsuit.”
“The Lones Group? There’s one company I will *never* use for marketing or anything else they claim to do.”
“It’s funny… I’ve never heard of The Lones Group. Until today.”
“Ridiculous what they are doing.”
“To the Lones Group. Really? I mean Really?”
“Google’s new “Social Search” isn’t looking too hot for the lones group…”
“Denise Lones is a good teacher, enjoyed her classes.” (the only “pro Lones” message I’ve found so far)
“wondering if lones group knows the power of ONE well written blogpost & 30 days of world class SEO…#lonesgroupsux”
And that’s just part of one search. It goes on and on, you get the idea.
The scary thing, or what should be the scary thing for the Lones Group is this is all coming from their potential client base. Sure, there are many many real estate agents that will never see Twitter or Facebook mentions. And in a few days the Twitter stream will die down. So what is the lasting damage to the Lones Groups good name and brand?
Time will tell. There is little doubt that posts like you are reading now will get indexed in Google forever. Even those agents who aren’t active in the social media space are likely to Google The Lones Group. They will be presented with glowing testimonials, along with opinions like this one. It will be up to each of those individuals to decide whether or not to use the Lones Groups services, or to buy the products the Lones Group sells on their web site.
Keep in mind too, the power of word of mouth. It is the most powerful marketing medium in existence. What social media does with word of mouth is vastly broaden its reach. Sure, not every potential client of The Lones Group is on Twitter and Facebook, and clearly not all their potential clients read this blog. But when people with thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends jump to defend someone they know and respect it does not bode well for the company on the other side. Word travels fast. The real estate community is pretty tight knit. This will move beyond the social media space and continue to progress through word of mouth and other traditional channels. Of that, I have no doubt.
The lawsuit the Lones Group has filed states that the U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington has jurisdiction in that case because, “the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.” It also states that, “As a result of Defendants’ conduct, Plaintiff has suffered harm to its reputation and goodwill, and unless Defendant is restrained and enjoined, Plaintiff will continue to suffer harm from Defendants’ conduct.”
Well here’s a message to The Lones Group – I think you’ve done far more than $75K in damage to yourself — THIS AFTERNOON — then Daniel putting a stylized image of a freaking zebra on his website could ever hope to do. The Real Estate Zebra caused you to suffer harm to your reputation and goodwill?
Mayhap you should sue YOURSELF Lones Group for the harm to your reputation and goodwill that you flung upon yourselves with this ridiculous lawsuit.
Whew. 1,814 words. Thanks for reading, I feel better now.
Legal Defense Fund for Daniel
A web site to collect funds for Daniel’s legal defense has been set up at ZebraDefenseFund.com. If there is anything you can contribute, please do so. Short of cash? How about a blog post? Help spread the word. Ask your friends if they can donate. If anyone would like the code to the donation button to put on a post, just let me know. I’ve *never*, not once, asked anyone to link to anything I’ve written. And I won’t do that now. Of course if you want to link to this post, I have no problem with that. If you write a post, let me know and
I’ll link to it here. (please see update below).
Fight the good fight Daniel, don’t let The Lones Group bring you down. You ARE the Real Estate Zebra. And you always will be – no matter what happens.
Contribute to Daniel’s Defense Fund Here
Sorry folks, I’m not going to attempt to link to all the blog posts on this topic. They are not hard to find. I’ve been accused both publicly and privately of “piling on” (and worse) and it’s just not worth the battle. I’m tired of fighting it with the same people over and over. I’m sure some will feel that I’m giving in to these people, and I understand that sentiment. The bottom line is some of the accusers are right — in some ways. They’re also mistaken in other ways.
This post was written for two reasons — to try to help educate people on what can happen in the social networking space, and to try to help my friend Daniel in a very difficult time for him. I’m not taking that back. People need to understand just how easy it is to destroy your name in the social media space. And I will **never** step down from helping my friends.
You are completely free to disagree with my tactics, the way I’ve chosen to to try to help educate, or my writing style. That’s fine, no problem, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Differing opinions are good. But please don’t tell me or imply that I desire to “destroy” the Lones Group business. That is ludicrous. As I stated in my post, I have no idea if they are good at what they do. They may be brilliant. They may well produce the most visually stunning, compelling and effective marketing material in the country. And more power to them if they do. But they either: 1) do not understand how social media and networking can impact a brand’s perception; or 2) they know, they weighed it, and they chose to move ahead anyway. If #1 is correct, then I hope they and others can learn from this. If #2 is correct, then they took a calculated risk and only time will tell how that pans out for them.
Photo Credit: imjustcreative.com