Oprah Winfrey beats 'Own Your Power' trademark appeal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul and former talk show host, on Friday defeated an appeal in a trademark lawsuit over her use of the phrase “Own Your Power” in her namesake magazine and on television, websites and social media.

Oprah Winfrey arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. on February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the plaintiff, Simone Kelly-Brown, a motivational speaker and business coach, and her company, Own Your Power Communications Inc, did not show that Winfrey’s use of “Own Your Power” confused people.

The court also said the phrase “Own Your Power” was “not distinctive” and thus lacked independent trademark protection.

Kelly-Brown registered a “design mark” for “own your power” in a stylized light-blue script with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in May 2008.

“I’m taken aback because I can’t reconcile the court’s precedents with this decision,” said Patricia Lawrence-Kolaras, a lawyer for Kelly-Brown. She said she will discuss legal options with her client.

The defendants also included Winfrey’s Harpo Productions Inc and her publisher, Hearst Corp. Their lawyer, Jonathan Donnellan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friday’s decision upheld a March 2015 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty in Manhattan.

He said the defendants had exercised good faith in using “Own Your Power,” plus other words and images associated with Winfrey, to convey a message of “self-empowerment.”

The appeals court questioned part of Crotty’s analysis, saying he appeared to believe that “Own Your Power” could not be trademarked because the phrase by itself was not distinctive.

It said this was “not obviously so” because a “composite mark, consisting of a literal component combined with design elements, may nevertheless be protectable.”

But the appeals court concluded that in this case the phrase was “merely descriptive as applied to the plaintiffs’ business.”

Winfrey, 62, is worth $2.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine. She created the OWN cable network through a joint venture with Discovery Communications Inc, and owns 10 percent of Weight Watchers International Inc.

The case is Kelly-Brown et al v. Winfrey et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 15-697.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe