Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

Big Oil Loses It: ExxonMobil Claims it Owns the Letter “X”!

World's richest oil company sues FX television network in act approaching self-parody.

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Apparently if you are the world’s richest oil company used to making $104 million in profit every day, no lawsuit is too frivolous, expensive or downright hilarious when you are the plaintiff. That’s the message from ExxonMobil this week as it filed a lawsuit against the FX television network. In court papers, the oil behemoth effectively argues that it owns the exclusive right to put two X’s next to each other.

Underscoring the ridiculousness of a company claiming to own a letter of the alphabet,Deadline notes, “This double-cross brawl may come as a surprise to Dos Equis, which also has a double-X logo, and we assume the legal wrangling will be watched with considerable interest by the XX chromosome, and the roman numeral for 20.” Same thing for any clothing companies that make T-shirts marked double extra large.

In an interview with Ad Age, an FX spokesperson called the suit “entirely meritless” and said, “We are confident that viewers won’t tune into FXX looking for gas or motor oil and drivers won’t pull up to an Exxon pump station expecting to get ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’”

ExxonMobil’s narcissistic presumption seems, in part, to be that a television station wouldwant its brand to be synonymous with the largest and most rapacious oil company on the planet. Considering the public’s view of the oil industry, though, that seems like a, um, baseless presumption. Sure, a TV network probably does want the advertising dollars that ExxonMobil spends on its greenwashing campaigns, but it probably doesn’t want to be confused for Exxon TV.

ExxonMobil’s suit instantly makes it a candidate for the list of the most famous intellectual property claims of all time. Among others on that list are:

- Spike Lee claiming exclusive ownership rights of his first name in a suit against Viacom’s Spike TV.

- Fox News being laughed out of court after claiming exclusive ownership of the phrase “fair and balanced.”

- Warner/Chappell Music arguing in court that the 120-year-old “Happy Birthday” song is its exclusive property.

Huey Lewis suing Ray Parker Jr. over allegations that the latter’s “Ghostbusters” anthem resembled the former’s “I Want a New Drug.”

- Larrikin Music suing Men at Work for damages, based on the company’s claims that the music group’s flute in the song “Down Under” derives from a 75-year-old children’s song called “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” The music company claiming the rights to the Kookaburra song didn’t file suit until 28 years after Men at Work’s hit was released. That’s when a television quiz show in Australia claimed there was a resemblance between the two tunes.

While intellectual property is, in general, real and protectable property, and while stealing intellectual property is a serious crime, let’s be honest: Many of the aforementioned suits — including ExxonMobil’s — seem more than a bit absurd. Then again, the Supreme Court just ratified the right of companies to claim patent protections for DNA. So in the brave new world of intellectual property, “absurd” is apparently in the eye of the beholder.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books Hostile Takeover and The Uprising. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.
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