A trademark dispute took an unexpected turn this week after President George Dubya Bush used the phrase "let's roll" for roughly the eleven-zillionth time.
Mr. Bush's frequent use of that catch phrase has inspired an unusual union among several arch-rivals, each of whom continues to seek exclusive trademark rights to the words "let's roll." These would-be trademark owners, who each seeks sole rights to use the phrase on mugs, T-shirts, and bikini briefs, now have one thing in common: They believe that President Bush's "persistent, exploitative, unrelenting and/or really boring use of the phrase diminishes, depletes, dissipates, and/or demeans the value of those words, thereby impairing and/or eliminating the potential merchandising profitability of the disputed trademark and screwing us out of a ton of money."
In a joint complaint against Mr. Bush filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, they seek a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction "enjoining President Bush from spewing those words ever again."
Their complaint, which also demands five billion dollars in compensatory and punitive damages for "trademark value diminution" alleges that "if Mr. Bush insists on turning audiences into brainwashed hordes of patriotic goo, he should come up with his own damn phrase." It also asserts, in the alternative, that "if President Bush wanted to steal the phrase from the deceased Todd M. Beamer, he should, in the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism, have beaten plaintiffs to the Trademark Office door and ripped plaintiffs off the good old-fashioned American Way."
Mr. Beamer, the man referred to in the complaint, was the Oracle account executive who on September 11, 2001, urged his fellow United Flight 93 passengers to tackle hijackers who had commandeered their flight. That plane was the only one hijacked on September 11 that never reached its target because passengers led by Beamer fought back. Mr. Beamer's last words, overheard on an in-flight phone shortly before he died and the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field, were "let's roll."
Since then, Beamer has become a hero and his words, symbolizing American courage and resolve, have become a valuable commodity whose value, according to the complaint, "suffers substantial damage and irreparable harm each time it's emitted from Bush's big fat mouth."
A foundation named for Todd Beamer is one of the plaintiffs in the suit and appears to be one of the two top contenders for a "let's roll" trademark. The Todd M. Beamer Foundation says it wants to trademark it to sell hats, T-shirts, and mugs in his memory to raise money to benefit the children who lost parents on Flight 93. Over a dozen other entities have also applied to trademark the phrase. An especially strong claimant, according to some legal experts, is Michigan contractor Jack L. Williams. Williams beat the foundation to the trademark-filing door by two days, citing T-shirts and sweatshirts as potential uses. When asked to comment on the trademark dispute, Williams said, "Hero-Schmero," in an apparent reference to Beamer. "Orphans-Schmorphans," he added, presumably alluding to the children who lost parents on Flight 93 and whose food he is hoping to steal right out of their mouths.
Trademark attorneys disagree as to who will ultimately win the trademark dispute, and some even say "let's roll" cannot be trademarked at all. Asked to explain this viewpoint, California lawyer Mark Surfington said, "The alleged phrase has been around for ... like ... forever."
One historian, I. M. Boring, Jr., confirms Sufington's statement, dating its first usage back to the invention of the wheel. When told about Boring's historical insights, Surfington chided deceased hero Todd Beamer: "The man was seriously inconsiderate! I mean, if he was going to do the suicide routine, he should have come up with a fresher phrase. Something new and trademarkable. Something short, catchy, and memorable, like "Garumph!" or "Let's Jopper!"
When asked to comment on Surfington's statement, Michigan contractor Williams said, "Sorry. No time. Gotta go trademark 'Garumph' and 'Let's Jopper.'"
Meanwhile, a betting pool organized by trademark experts, lays heavy odds in favor of the foundation. "We're talking starving orphans," the pool's spokesman said on condition of anonymity. "Plus Beamer's the one everyone associates with the phrase. Or at least he would be if President Bush would keep his damn trap shut!"
Indeed, the feeling that Bush should "keep his damn trap shut" is the one sentiment shared by lawyers, litigants, and historians alike. And when the plaintiffs were asked what they'd do if Bush refused to stop saying "let's roll" every time he presides over another flea market opening, they all said variations on the same refrain: "He'll see," "He'll find out," "That'll be my little surprise," and "He'll be one sorry cowboy!"
Even singer/songwriter Neil Young plays a role in this dispute, although he isn't a party to the Bush litigation. Shortly after the September 11 crash, Young penned and recorded a song commemorating Flight 93. It includes these words: "Let's roll for justice, Let's roll for truth, Let's not let our children, Grow up fearful in their youth." When asked to comment on the suit against Bush and on the trademark dispute, Young refused. However, he said he'd called his song "Let's Roll" after first considering and rejecting "Let's Rock," "Let's Rye" and "Let's Bagel And Cream Cheese."
When asked what he'd do if his song were deemed to violate anybody's trademark, Mr. Young said, "I'm not worried." Young declined to address rumors that he's working on new titles including "The Evil One," "Evil-Doers" "Axis of Evil," and "Ode To Kenny Boy."