Toronto -- A&E Network and Canada's Alliance
Broadcasting are fighting over the trademark for the name "Biography."
The fight began when Alliance -- operator of Canadian cable
channels Showcase Television and History Television -- applied to launch a new service
called "The Biography Channel."
The name waved a red flag in front of A&E, and for good
reason: Its Biography series is the network's most valuable trademark.
In fact, for many viewers, Biography is synonymous
Charles Wright, A&E Television Networks' vice
president of legal and business affairs, insisted that the U.S. cable channel has a clear
trademark on the name "Biography." In fact, it paid money to acquire the
trademark from CBS, which ran its own Biography series with Mike Wallace in the
"We've developed this series and this trademark,
and a trademark is a valuable asset," Wright said.
Mark Hayes, A&E's Canadian counsel, added,
"If you allow someone else to use your mark without protest and without taking action
against them, you can potentially lose the exclusive rights to it."
Alliance president Phyllis Yaffe made no apologies about
using the generic term "biography." In fact, she appeared baffled by
"What we have done is applied for a channel in the
distant future with the word 'biography' in it," Yaffe said. A&E
"does not have a channel in Canada called 'Biography,' nor do they have an
application for one. All they have is a television program on a network called something
else. So, as far as I'm concerned, these are separate issues."
She can't see how A&E can lay claim to the word
"biography" as an all-encompassing trademark.
"There's a comedy channel, and people have comedy
programs," Yaffe added. "There is a Cartoon Network in the states, and other
channels run cartoons."
Both sides are discussing the dispute through their
lawyers. If talks fail, the matter could head to court.
Still, both Wright and Yaffe are playing down the tiff.
Apparently, neither wants to fuel the kind of fight that involved Country Music Television
and its Canadian clone.
That battle nearly resulted in a U.S./Canada trade war,
until CMT -- which had been replaced in Canada by the clone -- was allowed to buy into the
Canadian service and to rename it CMT Canada.
Judging by Wright's very deliberate diplomacy --
"We hope that this won't be misconstrued as two companies fighting across a
border with their hands around each other's necks," he said -- it's clear
that A&E doesn't want to go as far as CMT did; at least not yet.