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You’re fired! Real estate mogul Donald Trump, who uses that phrase to dismiss contestants on his reality TV show The Apprentice, has filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register it. But while some wonder whether he can really gain ownership over such a common phrase, it turns out he has competition in claiming it. Not only are others attempting to register the same trademark, one businesswoman says that she was there first-at least in her neck of the woods. Susan Brenner owns and operates You’re Fired, a combination ceramics studio and arts and crafts store she opened in 1997 in Glenview, Ill., a Chicago suburb. She teaches classes, organizes parties and sells mugs, mosaics, T-shirts and the like-some emblazoned with her business name. The first name she chose was Art ‘N Soul, but that was taken. She and her friends generated more puns: Kiln Time, Who Art Thou?, Glaze under Fire. The winner came from a friend who called early one morning. “I got the name of your place,” she said. “I saw it in a vision.” Brenner liked it immediately. It fit her personality, she said: forceful and direct. She applied for a trademark, but never followed through. It was too expensive and there was no point, she explained. When she heard Trump use the phrase, “I got a little pang of jealousy,” she said. Recently, as the popularity of his show has grown, people have walked into her store and remarked, “Oh, you’re using Donald Trump’s line.” That bothers her, she said. Even though she never registered the mark, her attorney said that under the Lanham (Trademark) Act, she still has common law rights in Illinois. When you register a trademark, you can protect it nationwide for designated goods and services, said Marvin Benn, Brenner’s lawyer. But that applies only to future businesses, not those that predate the registration, said Benn, who chairs the intellectual property group at Chicago’s Much Shelist Freed Denenberg Ament & Rubenstein. A recent search of the Patent and Trademark Office’s electronic database revealed 13 relevant applications. One was Brenner’s abandoned filing. Four were Trump’s, whose intended uses of the trademark were for clothing, casino services and “games and playthings.” Most of the others were for clothing. Benn was asked what his client wants from Trump. “We want him fired from Illinois,” quipped the lawyer. “I’m just joking,” he quickly added. Brenner doesn’t want Trump to sell clothing, games or crafts in the greater Chicago area that could be confused with her products. If Trump sells items with the mark over the Internet or in his casino in nearby Gary, Ind., “he has to come to terms with us,” Benn said. He read from a letter he sent Trump’s lawyers: “It has . . . come to our attention that you may have licensed or authorized Bloomingdale’s to sell clothing with the infringing marks affixed thereto. We will . . . be contacting the Chicago office of Bloomingdale’s.” Asked what terms his client would seek if Trump infringed, Benn said: “A license with a small percentage would satisfy her. Or buy her out.” Bernard Diamond, general counsel of The Trump Organization, was asked to respond, and he did in a faxed statement. “The only merchandising of ‘You’re Fired’ Mr. Trump has engaged in has been the sale of t-shirts that say ‘You’re Fired! The Donald,’ ” he wrote. “ My understanding is that there’s a trademark violation only if there is confusion, and no one is going to confuse Mr. Trump’s t-shirts with a pottery store.” Meanwhile Brenner, the widowed mother of a grown daughter, was suddenly besieged by the media last week. She seemed a little dazed from the experience. At one point during a telephone interview she exclaimed: “Oh my God, Donald Trump’s attorney is on line one! He’s supposed to talk to my attorney, isn’t he?” She paused while she waited for an answer (it turned out to be fake), then she changed the topic. “Is he single?” she asked. Hechler’s e-mail is [email protected].

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