This Is What’s Wrong with the Legal System in America

What else could we have done with the billions of dollars squandered on regulatory friction and the pursuit of questionable claims of damage?

Behind the public-relations facade of “advocacy” and “justice,” much of the American legal system is unproductive regulatory friction and the pursuit of extortionist rentier skims. I recently received an email that reflects many aspects of this systemic reality.

The letter blares legal threat in its upper-case title: TRADEMARK VIOLATION. Not possible trademark violation or alleged trademark violation, but a declaration of the unquestioned guilt of the recipient.

The email then proceeds to the accusation:

We recently visited your website and discovered that you are using the phase “From the Garden to the Table” on your website.

This is not an accurate statement. I used the phrase once within a longer string of words: from the garden to the table in 20 minutes. I am not “using the phrase on my website,” I wrote those words once as a description of my individual actions, i.e. harvesting vegetables from my garden and preparing a meal with them in 20 minutes.

Next, the email lists the URL to the offending page on my site, but when I clicked on the link, it led to some other website:

This URL http://www.oftwominds.com/blogfeb14/chard2-14.html led to http://experimentalstation.org/garden-to-plate-for-carnegie-elementary-school-students-woodlawn-chicago, a page of the Chicago-based organization experimental station.

In other words, this threatening legal letter was filled with errors both subtle and egregious. Anecdotally, such sloppiness is hardly unique in American law–especially when it comes to issuing veiled threats and enforcing rentier skims. The basic approach in America is unleash a tsunami of questionable threats and demands and then see what sticks.

The email then declared: Please take formal and Legal notice that the phrase “From the Garden to the Table” is a TRADEMARKED NAME of a California based non-profit organization. This registration is listed under #3118945 in the US Patent and trademark office.

At this juncture, we have reason to believe that your utilization of the trademark may be an oversight, and as such, we are sending you this notice to request that you immediately remove this phrase from your website. (emphasis in the email)

Would any judge declare my single use of this phrase in the context of a longer phrase a violation of trademark law? It’s difficult to see how my writing the plain English descriptive phrase from the garden to the table in 20 minutes harms the trademark or the holder of the trademark, from the garden to the table, a non-profit organization whose slogan is Eat & Live Green.

Perhaps the organization has trademarked that phrase as well, so please be cautious in your use of eat & live green as well as from the garden to the table.

You see the Orwellian absurdity of a non-profit promoting growing and eating healthy food devoting resources to threatening individuals and other organizations that share these same goals with unproductive and nonsensical accusations of trademark violation.

If I were a donor of from the garden to the table, I would be wondering if devoting scarce resources to absurd attacks on obviously innocent uses of a trademarked phrase was really a good use of my money.

I would also wonder if such poorly executed “enforcement of trademark” is really the best possible use of the money I donated to further the goal of Eating & Living GreenWouldn’t donors’ funds be better spent reaching out to these individuals and organizations, rather than harassing them with bogus accusations of TRADEMARK VIOLATION?

But none of this–the sloppiness, the scattershot accusations, the threatening tone of presumed guilt, the money squandered that could have been spent on something productive–is unique: it is standard practice in America.

We might also ask: why is it even possible to trademark such a phrase? What possible benefit is created by enabling the trademarking of virtually any common phrase, or the patenting of practices such as “photography against a white background”?

The practice of law in America boils down to two activities: enforcing extortionistrentier skims (for example, patent trolls who buy broad patents and then threaten everyone under the sun with questionable patent violations) or seeking extortionist compensation for alleged damages from anyone or any entity with insurance and/or cash to plunder.

The rest of the nation’s unproductive legal churn is devoted to complying with the tens of thousands of conflicting and overlapping regulations imposed by layer upon layer of government. Common sense suggests some regulations benefit the broad public, but much of what is passed as “protecting the public” is actually designed to protect established businesses from competition and hide parasitic skims behindcomplexity fortresses.

All this generates two kinds of extortion: you need to pay legal firms to protect you from frivolous claims of damage (or else bad things happen), and you also have to pay them to “vigorously defend” whatever intellectual property you might own, lest the circling legal sharks snatch it all away (i.e. bad things happen).

This unproductive edifice of legalized extortion, threats, scattershot claims of damage and regulatory friction has a very high opportunity cost to society and the economy. How many potential entrepreneurs decide not to start a business once they see the horrendous costs of complying with overlapping regulatory complexities, and how many close down rather than face the uncertainties and high costs of legal jousting with attorneys whose own costs of filing accusations and threats is near-zero?

What else could we have done with the billions of dollars squandered on regulatory friction and the pursuit of questionable claims of damage? Some estimate the cost of legal extortion and regulatory compliance at $1.9 trillion a year–roughly 12% of the nation’s GDP. There is no question we could have done something productive with all this treasure. Instead we have a system of parasitic make-work that incentivizes legalized extortion.

Yes, there are plenty of honest, hard-working attorneys. The problem is not the individuals trapped in the system, the problem is the system itself.


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  • You seem to have omitted the BAR monopoly has to play in all of this. Every lawyer is an entrepreneur, in business for profit. There are dozens of court rackets going on. Lawyers helping lawyers profit from human misery.

    Here is a documentary about the Divorce Court racket.

    Divorce Corp

    http://www.nowvideo.sx/video/75e993e8004e6

  • Charlie Primero

    Humorously, the more insane the legal environment becomes, the more reasonable the illegal environment becomes.

    To a small business person flooded with this Twilight Zone legal nonsense, the idea of hiring an honest muscle provider to visit one of these lawyers’ homes and simply beat the crap out of them becomes more and more acceptable and logical.

  • Kris

    It’s possible the actual non-profit knows nothing about this. I don’t know the details but there are patent trolls who read up on patents and then go looking for people to target.

  • Jackie Lewis

    The legal environment is filled with right wing lawyers whose only role is to transfer wealth to rich people. What problem does a Von-Misses-on-the-brain shclep see with this aspect of the class war? Come now, envy doesn’t sound particularly libertarian. It sounds like fighting for a lower standard of living, because things ain’t fair up in the law. Look, this is about personal responsibility.

  • John

    Thanks for the post. The US corporations (with a little help from their friends the lawyers — or say, the vast majority of them) would have invented the mafia if it did not exist before. If they could buy patents for the words you use, for the air you breathe or the light you receive, I bet they would do it. Some say this is what biotechnologies are for.

  • Hourglass_Primer

    This country would have turned out much better if the original thirteenth amendment was kept and was adhered to.

    The Original Thirteenth Article of Amendment
    To The Constitution For The United States

    “If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive, or retain any title of nobility or honour, or shall without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office, or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince, or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.”

    Note the words Title, Honor, Present, Pension or Emolument from any foreign Power, cease to be a Citizen, and incapable of holding office for either country. Those are very definite limitations with a profound sentence for violators – loss of Citizenship in the United States! If “honor” includes immunities and pensions, etc., all government employees will be under fire. This amendment certainly will cause a great shuffling sound in the areas of election donations (especially from non-residents), holding office, immunity from laws by government agents and agencies, titles of honor, and benefits legislators give themselves.

    Other influences require adjustment in our society. It appears unconstitutional to award judges with the title of “your honor”, and “honorable” to our Congress Persons. Lawyers can no longer be immune from questioning and lawsuit in trials, nor can they use “Esquire” after their name or hold any office, for they and that title were a primary target of the 13th.

    The original 13th Amendment may outlaw foreign ownership in America, especially of banks and money. It may be unlawful to sell land, banks, etc. to foreigners. GATT and NAFTA may be illegal. Clarification could be of great benefit to us people.

    It is a small wonder the bankers and lawyers removed the original 13th Amendment. A lot of people have come to realize that the billionaire banklords have us in an economic stranglehold and that their attorneys in and behind Congress twist our laws to benefit them.

    It is most important to note that the same conditions prevail today, only more so, and the need for the Thirteenth Amendment is even greater with the United States interfering in the affairs of the nations of Europe and Asia. With China and other nations buying voting blocks with illegal donations, i.e. “emoluments”, “grafts” and “bribes”, to the campaign funds and personal pockets of presidents, senators and congressmen, and others of our elected and appointed servants. With lobbying groups and multi-national corporations, which might properly be termed “foreign powers”, doing the same. With the duplicity evinced in the unprincipled, unethical and immoral conduct of a number of our elected representatives, who have subverted the Constitution at every step, who would destroy the Sovereignty of the United States of America. With the repudiation of the good sense of the policy of non-interference given by President Munroe in the Monroe Doctrine.

    The real importance of the Thirteenth Titles of Nobility and Honour Amendment to our American Republic lies in its origins. Its original purposes were: a) to protect the State and Federal election processes from bribery, graft and political chicanery, and b) to shield the federal government itself from both espionage and the domestic intrigues of foreign agents-provocateur, by placing a severe penalty on citizens so engaged.

    The Founding Fathers of Our Nation held an intense disdain and distrust of a privileged “Nobility” as a result of a long history, during Colonial times, of abuses and excesses against the Rights of Man and the established Common Law and Constitutions by the privileged “Nobility”, and therefore placed in the new Constitution two injunctions against the use or recognition of “Titles of Nobility or Honor” and acceptance of any emoluments whatever from external sources, the first pertaining to the federal government, Article I, Section 9, and the second pertaining to the individual states, Article I, Section 10.

    Why the power “elite” fought against the original Thirteenth Amendment and sought to have it removed after it was ratified March 12, 1819:
    http://www.barefootsworld.net/real13th.html ; The Missing Thirteenth Amendment: http://www.thirdamendment.com/missing.html