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Freedom Scientific V. Serotek Case Not Just About a Trademark

May 19, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
We have received a comment from a reader stating essentially that we shouldn’t make a big deal about this case, as Freedom Scientific is only asking that Serotek stop using the word FreedomBox as a product name.  Unfortunately, this assertion just does not match with the facts of the complaint as spelled out in paragraphs 17, 22 and 27.
 
Ceasing use of “FreedomBox” is just one aspect of this lawsuit.  Freedom Scientific is also suing for damages.  That’s right, my friends.  They’re suing Serotek for money!  Let’s review the relevant paragraphs:
 
17. The Defendant threatens to continue to do the actions complained of herein, and unless restrained and enjoined, will continue to do so, all to the Plaintiffs
irreparable damage. It would be difficult to ascertain the amount of compensation which could afford the Plaintiff adequate relief for such continuing
acts, and a multiplicity of judicial proceedings would be required. The Plaintiffs remedy at law is not adequate to compensate it for the injuries threatened.
WHEREFORE the Plaintiff prays:
 
(a) That this Court grant a permanent injunction pursuant to the powers granted it under 15 U.S.C. Section 1116, enjoining and restraining the Defendant
and its agents, servants, and employees from directly or indirectly using the name “Freedom Box” or any other mark, word, or name similar to the Plaintiffs
mark which is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive;
 
(b) That this Court, pursuant to the powers granted it under 15 U.S.C. Section 1118, order that all labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles,
and advertisements and other materials in the possession of the Defendant bearing the mark “Freedom Box” and all plates, molds, matrices, and other means
of making the same, shall be delivered up and destroyed;
 
(c) That this Court award the Plaintiff treble the amount of actual damages suffered by the Plaintiff;
 
(d) That the costs of this action be awarded to the Plaintiff;
 
(e) That this is an exceptional case and that the Plaintiff be awarded its reasonable attorneys’ fees; and
 
(f) That this Court grant such other and further relief as it shall deem just.
 
22. The infringing acts of Defendant, as heretofore alleged, have been without the consent of Plaintiff. 
 
WHEREFORE the Plaintiff prays:
 
(a) That this Court grant an injunction enjoining and restraining the Defendant and its agents, servants, and employees from directly or indirectly using
the name “Freedom Box” or any other mark, word, or name similar to the Plaintiffs mark which is likely to cause confusion, mistake, or to deceive;
 
(b) That this Court order that all labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles, and advertisements and other materials in the possession of the
Defendant bearing the mark “Freedom Box” and all plates, molds, matrices, and other means of making the same, shall be delivered up and destroyed;
 
(c) That the costs of this action be awarded to the Plaintiff;
 
(d) That Plaintiff be awarded its reasonable attorneys’ fees; and
 
(e) That this Court grant such other and further relief as it shall deem just.
 
27. The Defendant threatens to continue to do the actions complained of herein, and unless restrained and enjoined, will continue to do so, all to the Plaintiffs
irreparable damage. It would be difficult to ascertain the amount of compensation which could afford the Plaintiff adequate relief for such continuing
acts, and a multiplicity of judicial proceedings would be required. The Plaintiffs remedy at law is not adequate to compensate it for the injuries threatened.
 
WHEREFORE the Plaintiff prays:
 
(a) That this Court grant an injunction enjoining and restraining the Defendant and its agents, servants, and employees from (1) directly or indirectly
using the word “Freedom Box” or any other mark, word, or name similar to the Plaintiffs mark which is likely to cause confusion and (2) continuing any
and all acts of unfair competition as herein alleged;
 
(b) That the Defendant be required to account to the Plaintiff for any and all profits derived by the Defendant from the sale of its goods and for all damages
sustained by the Plaintiff by reason of said acts of unfair competition complained of herein;
 
(c) That this Court award punitive and exemplary damages against the Defendant and in favor of the Plaintiff by reason of the Defendant’s fraud and palming
off;
 
(d) That the costs of this action be awarded to the Plaintiff; and
 
(e) That this Court grant such other and further relief as it shall deem just.
There are some rather disturbing elements of this complaint.  First, Freedom Scientific is asking for unspecified damages resulting from the supposed trademark infringement.  In this context, the word “treble” is defined as “a claim for treble (or triple) damages”!  That’s right, my friends!  Freedom Scientific wants the court to determine the amount of damages they suffered, then triple that figure!  Read this again; that’s triple!  Second, Freedom Scientific claims that this case is “exceptional” enough to also justify forcing Serotek to pay their legal fees!  Third, Freedom Scientific wants to put Serotek through all the costs involved with totally remarketing and renaming their “FreedomBox” product when the trademark infringement claim seems rather dubious at best.
 
So, given these and probably many other factors I may have overlooked, should we be concerned about this case as a blind community?  You bet!  We should always be very worried when the largest player in the blindness technology market chooses to sue its competition out of business rather than to compete fairly, create the products we need to insure continued access to technology, innovate and properly support their existing product lines!

Mike, Matt and all the hard working folks at Serotek have been innovating, going boldly where no other assistive technology company has gone before.  Their Remote Incident Manager product promises to absolutely revolutionize current and new employment opportunities for blind people all over the world, and System Access is getting better and better all the time!  If this lawsuit puts them out of business, this technology could be lost and not rediscovered for a very long time.  In the First Century A.D., everyone forgot that the Earth is round with the loss of scientific curiosity and discovery that resulted from the destruction of the Roman Empire and the insuing Dark Ages.  Do we really want to allow Freedom Scientific to do the same thing to the blindness assistive technology industry and to us as a community now?
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8 opinions on “Freedom Scientific V. Serotek Case Not Just About a Trademark

  1. It’s odd that FS waited seven years to bring this action! Or is it? This action comes only after system access has been deployed in government offices. This clearly shows that fs, is only concerned about losing their enormous contracts. By asking for triple damages, they are attempting to put serotek out of business. Even if Fs does not win the case, the legal costs alone could harm serotek. As has been stated many times, it is beneficial for a blind person to have more than one access solution on their computer. Shame on freedom scientific, for trying to take system access away from us, and attempting to quash the community which Matt and mike have worked so hard to build. As Darrell stated, the rim and ram technology is among the most revolutionary and liberating technology for blind professionals. Add to that the networking opportunities provided by the freedombox network, and you clearly have a company that is doing it’s best to try and improve the lives of blind people everyday.

  2. This case has absolutely nothing to stand on. Quite frankly, the lack of updates that actually fix bugs and don’t introduce more from FS is what, if anything, has damaged their “brand”. If they were really worried about this, they should have sued seven years ago.

    I have never actually seen anyone confuse the product Freedom Box for Freedom Scientific.

    All freedom is doing here is making a worse name for themselves among the community they serve. It is basic business sense that if you want to strengthen your brand and business, you make sure that your product is well thought of. If it isn’t, and people are switching, it’s not because they confused the companies. People are generally more intelligent than that. I’ll be reading the suit soon, once the post-final brain freeze goes away. Thanks for covering this!

  3. Hasn’t Fredom Box been around longer than Freedom Scientific? I mean, before Freedom Scientific was Freedom Scientific? And if Freedom Box has not been around longer than Freedom Scientific, why did FS wait until now to file suit?

  4. After this case becomes considered the rediculous nonsense that it is and Serotek wins as justice prevails if they are still subject to some cost for this mess then we as a blindness community can take up a collection to each do our share and diminish their burden.

  5. Nickie is right. FS need to make functional products before they worry about other people.

    Maybe the new owners will boot Hamilton, and get down to making decent products for the money.

    It’s one stupid manuver after another. Honestly, I hope the new owners shake things up.

  6. Trademark Violation? There is no confusion here in the marketplace. And I wonder if Freedom Scientific may not be the first to use this trademark. I suppose that Freedom Scientific will also go after “Freedom Machines” at http://www.freedommachines.com and “Freedom Vision” at http://www.freedomvision.net. Both target the community of people with disabilities – like many such organizations which use the word “freedom” in their corporate name or product line. The latter link is for a company owned by a person who is blind who also sells low vision products to the community. And Freedom Vision was established in 1999 before Freedom Scientific.

    Cynthia Waddell
    Executive Director and Law, Policy and Technology Consultant
    International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet

  7. I guess almost everyone now knows that the suit has been settled; at least, that’s what the legal description of it is. I use FreedomBox and System Access exclusively; although, I do a good bit of testing on all sorts of access technology products. Both Jaws and Window Eyes are great products in themselves and, I’m sure that most of the blindness community agrees with that. However, this is one of the silliest and unprofessional rank things I have ever heard of. I get the feeling personally that Serotek has been scared into saying that they feel good about the settlement. Well, if they feel good, I do too; but, it just gives way to the fact that, whenever a big boy company like Freedom Scientific decides to bully somebody else around, they’ll already have something in their belt with which to do it. It just bothers me that some entity can push somebody else around like this. Please, visit my website:
    http://www.tonybroome.com
    for some good balanced ministry, blindness pc help, and even some good laughs!

  8. After reading the comments left by others about this issue, I agree with Cynthia , Freedom Scientific should just drop the suit and continue with improving their flagship products, technical expertise and customer support.

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