News and Commentary

Obamas Made Deal With Netflix. Their New Film Celebrates … Michelle Obama.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama are seen after their portraits were unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Monday February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In March 2018, prior to former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle inking their multi-year partnership deal with the internet streaming service Netflix two months later, a senior adviser to Barack Obama enthused, “President and Mrs. Obama have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire. Throughout their lives, they have lifted up stories of people whose efforts to make a difference are quietly changing the world for the better. As they consider their future personal plans, they continue to explore new ways to help others tell and share their stories.”

Apparently helping others meant helping themselves, as Netflix has announced that the Obama’s company Higher Ground Productions’ latest film is a documentary celebrating Michelle Obama, following her as she traveled around the country to promote her bestselling memoir, “Becoming.”

“The announcement comes with a letter from Obama, in which she says this wasn’t just a standard book tour: ‘In groups large and small, young and old, unique and united, we came together and shared stories, filling those spaces with our joys, worries, and dreams,’” reports TechCrunch, adding that Netflix plans to release the film on May 6.

Last September, The Daily Wire reported that Higher Ground Productions demanded that another company, founded in 2008 as Higher Ground Enterprises and devoted to helping authors publish e-books, renounce its trademark. The Hollywood Reporter (THR) noted that in August, Higher Ground Productions asked the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to cancel the trademark registration for “Higher Ground Enterprises.”

THR reported, “Higher Ground Enterprises is run by Hanisya Massey, who, according to her attorney Larry Zerner, is in the business of helping authors publish e-books … On April 10, a Trademark Examiner refused to register the Obamas’ claimed mark with a nod to the one held by Massey. The Obamas … argued the two marks could co-exist in the marketplace.”

The Obamas’ production company stated:

The consumers of “media production services” covered by the Application are likely to be highly sophisticated. Media production services are generally offered not to individual consumers but to commercial entities and professionals in their field. Indeed, Applicant has entered a deal with Netflix in connection with its media production services. Such customers, whether multi-billion-dollar media companies or smaller commercial entities in need of media production services, will exercise the height of care in selecting a media production company and are highly unlikely to be confused by a photographer or e-book publisher — particularly when the other party uses a distinguishable mark.

The U.S. Trademark Office disagreed, countering, “The overriding concern is not only to prevent buyer confusion as to the source of the goods and/or services, but to protect the registrant from adverse commercial impact due to use of a similar mark by a newcomer.”

THR continued, “In a petition to cancel, the Obamas essentially allege that Massey doesn’t deserve a trademark because ‘Higher Ground Enterprises’ wasn’t actually in use at the time of its 2016 registration. (An online search turns up some early incorporation filings, though the digital trail at least seems thin.)”

Zerner furiously replied, “The Obamas have known for almost a year that their Higher Ground trademark application was rejected by the USPTO because it infringed my client’s rights. Instead, of simply picking another name, the Obamas’ lawyers have now filed a meritless petition to cancel my client’s trademark so they can take it for themselves. This is really deplorable behavior. I hope that the Obamas realize that these actions are not consistent with the values they preach and that they instruct their attorneys to immediately dismiss the petition.”