Angry Asian Trademarks


Angry Asian What?

I don't know how well these two folks are known outside the AAPI community, but I've been a big fan of both Lela Lee (creator of Angry Little Girls) and Phil Yu (a.k.a. Angry Asian Man) for years.

In the past couple of days, there's been a bit of a dust-up between the two of them regarding trademarks. If you believe Phil Yu's account, he's a victim being attacked by Lela Lee even though they've been "friends" and "collegial" with each other for years. If you believe Lela Lee's account, he has been stealing her stuff forever and now that he's gone from hobbyist to career blogger, he's now a threat to her trademark.

I can honestly see both sides of this.

In defense of Lela Lee

On the one hand, Lela Lee's lawyers are probably advising that if she doesn't aggressively defend her trademark, she may lose it. And she probably didn't think Phil was even thinking trademarks until he actually tried to trademark Angry Asian Man and then heard back from the USPTO that it was too similar to her patent.

In defense of Phil Yu

On the other hand, Phil Yu does have a good point that she has not been telling him for years "Hey, you're infringing on my trademark and need to change your name." They have, in fact, been collegial professionally (if not actual friends). To have this drop on him with lawyers and stuff may seem to come out of the blue for him.

In defense of Lela Lee

That said, even in his own account of things...

  • He does seem to take unnecessarily long to get back to her on stuff.
  • Saying to her "I am honestly taking your advice seriously, and have been actively researching what it would take to gradually transition the name of my brand. It won't be easy, and it's going to take a while, but it's the right move in the long run" does essentially say he is going to transition, even though he contends "at no point in this message do I ever agree to change the name." Uh, saying it's the right move in the long run pretty much says to me you're going to transition, even if not right away.
  • If you try to trademark Angry Asian Man and then USPTO tells you it's too similar to Angry Little Asian Girl, the USPTO may, in fact, be wrong, but that would certainly raise my legal/business alarms if I were Lela Lee, not because I'd necessarily think Phil Yu was trying to get in on my turf, but because I'd be worried that the USPTO may still consider it a dilution of my brand.
  • In the correspondence Phil Yu posts from Lela Lee, she actually seems to be offering a lot of help in terms of trying to help him transition—certainly a lot more than she's legally obligated to do (which is zero)—even though he doesn't like any of the names she suggests.

I know Phil Yu has a lot invested in Angry Asian Man, but if he does feel it's best to transition out in the long term, he can transition out, and his loyal fanbase will go along with him (I certainly will). If he decides to call himself "Pissed Off Asian Dude" or "Not Really Angry But Outraged About Racism Guy," I'll just link to that blog and follow that blog on Facebook and whatnot. Check out this list of Bands Forced to Change Their Names. The Verve, apparently, dodged a lawsuit by changing its name from Verve to The Verve.

In defense of Phil Yu

Okay. I get that Lela Lee's lawyers are probably telling her to defend her trademark aggressively. So why get out the personal attacks about Phil Yu being "a Korean boy prince who was probably doted on by his parents"? Why not just say "I like you, but this is what my lawyers are telling me to do"? Do the good cop, bad cop. Be the good cop. Let your lawyers be the bad cop.

Also, really, USPTO—Angry Little Asian Girls and Angry Asian Man are easily confused? Seriously? One is a series of cute and clever (but angry) cartoons. Another is a series of blog posts about current events. One has a cartoon drawing as a logo. Another has a photo of a G.I. Joe action figure as the mascot.

What I'd like to see happen

I don't know Lela Lee or Phil Yu, either in real life or virtually. I'm a fan of both and have been following both for years. I like the work they do, but I don't know if they're nice people or jerks. I honestly think this is a terrible misunderstanding, and I'd like to see both parties try to work it out with the USPTO that the two names are distinct. If not, I guess Phil Yu should change the name and take his followers with him. And then I think Lela Lee should give Phil a huge apology... not that they'd ever really be on speaking terms again, but it'd be at least some kind of gesture of good will.

Honestly, I've been Psychocats for years, actually about as long as Phil Yu has been Angry Asian Man. If The Psycho Cats (some band, apparently?) successfully made a legal case that I was infringing on their trademark and diluting their brand, I honestly don't give a rat's posterior, and I would take my Ubuntu fans (and anyone else who reads this blog) and pick a different name. I'd be pissed. Sure, I'd be pissed. I would think the USPTO is batty (which is common knowledge but hopefully will change in the future), but I'd do it. I sure as hell would wait a lot longer than 30 days to relinquish control of the domain name, though, because that's traffic.

I hope this resolves itself soon. As one commenter on Lela Lee's site said, it's like Mom and Dad are fighting. Stay angry, you two, but don't stay angry at each other... I hope.

Further Reading
I am Angry Girl Comics and I am BEYOND Angry with “Angry Little Asian Girl”, AKA Lela Lee
Isn’t the internet big enough for more than one “Angry Asian”?
A comment to Lela Lee of Angry Little Asian Girl, by Min Jung Kim
Angry Little Asian Girl threatens to sue Angry Asian Man
Angry vs. Angry and why all of us lose

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. You’re about to get a letter from the “Psychic Cats Tutorial”, a weblog dedicated to making your cat come to you by only imagining the sound of a cat food can being opened.

    :D

  2. I don’t know if Jenn has an official legal background, but she seems to have done a ton of legwork on this and makes a compelling legal case against Lela Lee’s claims of infringement:
    http://reappropriate.co/?p=7911

    One small correction, though—Lela Lee is not contending she has a trademark on anything Angry Asian, just gendered pronouns (she’s actually suggesting Angry Asian America to Phil Yu as a viable alternative).

  3. Thanks for the link and this is a great outline of where you’re coming from!

    I don’t have a legal background, but I do have a reputation of doing an enormous, sort of stupid amount of research for my blog posts which usually means I typically get it pretty close to right (I do a fair amount of information synthesis for my day job so it’s something I’ve gotten pretty good at). I haven’t been contacted by anyone who knows IP law better with any notes that I’m really wrong on anything, and that post has been read by a TON of people. So what I’ve outlined is, it seems, a pretty decent primer, if not a substitute for 1st year of law school.

    One small correction, though—Lela Lee is not contending she has a trademark on anything Angry Asian, just gendered pronouns (she’s actually suggesting Angry Asian America to Phil Yu as a viable alternative).

    Well, I think she has waffled on this a little. To read Phil’s account, she first said she would coexist with “Angry Asian America”, but then in her original C&D letter said that she would also consider “Angry Asian America” an infringement, and then now has since offered a deal that Phil is contemplating that would involve him accepting AAA. So, it seems like that while now she doesn’t consider it an infringement, that has not been true throughout the whole period of the conflict.

    I’ve made it also clear that while I don’t really know (or even necessarily care) what Phil decides to do, I don’t fully understand how she would consider “Angry Asian Man” an infringement, but “Angry Asian America” not an infringement. She doesn’t really HAVE to justify her thinking to anyone (what a senior user thinks is an infringement dictating what they want to pursue action on is ultimately pretty subjective), but it’s certainly hard for me to see the logic.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Jenn! I didn’t see the waffling, but since you are so thorough, I’m going to take your word for it that she did.

    I don’t really agree with the logic, but apparently it’s different to have the gendered pronoun instead of an entire country being angry.

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