Leo D. Stoller (born
June 5, 1946) is an American self-styled " intellectual property entrepreneur" based in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Stoller controversially claimed rights to a large inventory of "famous" trademarks and engaged in the assertive enforcement of those alleged trademark rights, threatening infringement action against people and companies who attempt to use similar marks.
Though he managed to obtain license payments in some circumstances through
demand letters, Stoller lost some key challenges in federal court, and was sanctioned by United States regulators for filing thousands of motions. A federal court labeled Stoller and his companies as "vexatious litigants" in 2005, and his bankruptcyfiling from that year was converted to a liquidationin 2006 after the judge found Stoller's filing to have been made in bad faith. On August 8, 2007, the bankruptcy court approved the sale of Stoller's trademark assets to the Society for the Prevention of Trademark Abuse, LLC. (Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Approving Sales of Debtor's Assets, "In re Leo Stoller, Debtor", no. 05-B-64075 (N.D. Ill., Aug. 8, 2007))]
Stoller's companies included Rentamark.com, Stealth Industries Inc., S Industries Inc., Sentra Sporting Goods U.S.A., and Central Manufacturing Company. Through these companies or in his own name, Stoller has registered trademarks with the
United States Patent and Trademark Office(USPTO) for over 25 years including STEALTH, SENTRA, DARK STAR, AIR FRAME, TRIANA, STRADIVARIUS, HAVOC, CHESTNUT, TRILLIUM, WHITE LINE FEVER, FIRE POWER, LOVE YOUR BODY, and many others.
Stoller has filed oppositions to others' trademark applications with the USPTO
Trademark Trial and Appeal Board(TTAB) numerous times, and filed applications for extension of the deadline to file such oppositions even more times. Stoller claims a number of large and small companies have resolved trademark controversies. When approaching infringers, Stoller is reported to document his claims with copies of letters which demonstrate capitulation with his demands. Such letters are said to be from companies such as K-Mart, and often marked "Confidential".
A list of thousands of proceedings involving Leo Stoller and his companies (Stealth Industries, Inc., Leo Stoller Stealth Industries Inc., Leo Stoller Central Mfg. Co, Central Mfg. Co., Central Mfg. Inc., Sentra Industries Inc.) can be found in the USPTO site. [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=Stealth%20Industries,%20Inc.] [ [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=Leo%20Stoller%20Stealth%20Industries,%20Inc. USPTO TTABVUE. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Inquiry System ] ] [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=LEO%20STOLLER%20CENTRAL%20MFG.%20CO] [ [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=CENTRAL%20MFG.%20CO USPTO TTABVUE. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Inquiry System ] ] [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=CENTRAL%20MFG.%20INC.] [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pnam=Sentra%20Industries%20INC.]
Articles about Stoller have appeared in "
The New York Times"Moynihan, Colin, " [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/04/business/04stealth.html?ei=5090&en=c28d9a3d86540f87&ex=1278129600&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all He Says He Owns the Word 'Stealth' (Actually, He Claims 'Chutzpah,' Too)] ", " The New York Times", July 4, 2005] and the " Chicago Sun-Times".Ngo, Emily (July 28, 2005). 'Stealth' fighter: Chicago man says movie name belongs to him. " Chicago Sun-Times"] He has been quoted in the " Wall Street Journal" Flandez, Raymund [http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06332/741848-28.stm Tiny firm wins 'Chewy Vuiton' suit, but still feels a bite.] "Wall Street Journal"] and interviewed on Fox News, CBS Newsand talk radio programs.
9/11 charity charges
In August 2002 the
Illinois Attorney Generalfiled suit against Stoller for illegally soliciting funds on behalf of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacksvia his web site giveagiftonline.com. In 2003, Stoller and his proprietorships “Give a Gift Online,” “American Conservation Society,” and “Association Network Management” were named in a Consent Decree with the Illinois Attorney General. See Exhibit 54 in the Schmetterer opinion.] Twelve charities Stoller listed said they never received any money from Stoller, despite assurances on the site that "100 percent of all donations" would be forwarded. He was accused of not being a licensed charitable organization and listing charities without their permission. Benjamin Steverman (August 1, 2002). [http://mesh.medill.northwestern.edu/mnschicago/archives/2002/08/illinois_attorn.html Illinois Attorney General files suit against River Forrest man charged with Sept. 11 charity scam.] Medill News Service] Stoller paid a $2,000 fine and was barred from soliciting for charities in Illinois, but made no admission of wrongdoing.
"S Industries, Inc. v. Centra 2000"
In 1996 S Industries, Inc. filed suit alleging that Centra 2000, a producer of
data management software, infringed its/Stoller's "Sentra" trademark in violation of the Lanham Act. District Judge George W. Lindberg ruled in favor of Centra 2000, finding that S Industries did not hold a federal registration for the "Sentra" mark for use on computer hardware or software. Because S Industries' claims were, in the judge's view, completely unfounded and because its procedural maneuvering multiplied the cost of defending against the suit, Centra 2000 was awarded attorney's fees in July 1998."S Industries, Inc. v. Centra 2000, Inc." Case No. 96 C 3524] This was affirmed on appeal."S Industries, Inc. v. Centra 2000, Inc." United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit Case No. 00-2462]
"Columbia Pictures v. Stoller"
Columbia Picturesbrought out the 2005 movie "Stealth"" [http://home.comcast.net/~jlw28129/05_C_2052.pdf Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. v. Leo Stoller b/d/a Rentamark.Com, Central Mfg. Inc. d/b/a Central Mfg. Co., and Stealth Industries, Inc.] " (Case No. 05 C 2052 (N.D. Ill.)). This filing contains a full copy of the package Stoller sends to companies as part of his demand letter.] , Stoller attempted to force the movie studio to change the name of the movie or pay him royalties,Yearwood, Pauline Dubkin (August 26, 2005). [http://www.chicagojewishnews.com/story.htm?id=196195 Talk About Chutzpah: This Chicago Jewish entrepreneur says he owns the rights to that word and a couple of hundred others. And he isn't kidding.] "Chicago Jewish News"] but the studio responded by counterclaiming against Stoller.
"Central Manufacturing Co. v. Brett"
A case decided by
summary judgmenton September 30, 2005, "Central Manufacturing Co. v. Brett"" [http://images.chillingeffects.org/cases/Stoller_v_Brett.pdf Central Mfg Co. v. Brett] " (No. 1:04-cv-03049 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2005))] , pitted a Stoller-owned company against Hall-of-Fame baseballplayer George Brett, whose company, Brett Brothers Sports International Inc., sells a bat under the name "Stealth" [http://home.comcast.net/%7Ejlw28129/Stoller_Brett_Order.pdf] . It was alleged in this case that the use of that name infringed upon Stoller's trademark rights.
In its decision, the
United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinoisdetermined that there was no likelihood of confusion where consumers would mistakenly regard Brett's bats as being from Stoller's company. The court also found that Stoller failed to provide adequate proof that his company and its licensees had even sold baseball-related merchandise at all. The court found likelihood of confusion in the opposite direction, found Brett's trademark rights to be senior, and hence cancelled Stoller's (Central Manufacturing) registration. In the decision, the court described Stoller's tactics and enumerated dozens of unsuccessful infringement cases he had brought in that court.
Chief Judge Charles P. Kocoras from the Northern District of Illinois then issued a citation to Stoller after reviewing his "filing history" having filed at least "49 lawsuits in this court, individually or through one of his many wholly owned corporations". "The Executive Committee (of the Northern District of Illinois) in its capacity as the supervisor of the assignment of cases, has directed that Leo Stoller inform this court of any claim by him why the Executive Committee should not impose reasonable and necessary restraints upon Mr. Stoller's ability to file civil cases in this District." After a thorough review of Leo Stoller's entire filing history the Executive Committee of the Northern District of Illinois issued a decision stating that "the committee will take no further action in this matter."
On July 9, 2007, in an opinion that opened with a laudatory description of the George Brett "
Pine Tar Incident," the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's judgment, including the order for Stoller to pay Brett's attorney fees. [http://caselaw.findlaw.com/data2/circs/7th/062083p.pdf cite court
litigants=Central Manufacturing, Inc. and Stealth Industries, Inc. v. George Brett and Brett Brothers Sports Int'l, Inc.
date=July 9, 2007]
"Central Mfg. Co. v. Pure Fishing, Inc."
Stoller and the "Central Mfg. Co. (a Delaware corporation)" sued a
fishing tacklecompany, Pure Fishing, Inc. in February 2005 in Illinois for selling Spiderwire Stealth fishing line."Central Mfg. Co. v. Pure Fishing, Inc.", No. 05 C 00725 (N.D. Ill.)] Pure Fishing denied infringement and counterclaimed alleging that Stoller's trademark business violated various state and federal laws against unfair business practices. Pure Fishing also acquired and asserted in another counterclaim ( piercing the corporate veiland continuation of business theories) the unsatisfied 1998 sanction judgment that had been awarded to Centra 2000 against Stoller's S Industries, Inc.Pure Fishing also showed that Stoller had signed his attorney's name to pleadings that were filed with the court.Notice of Appearance for the corporate entities and a court-ordered Rule 11 certification as to the accuracy of facts in a Second Amended Complaint] Stoller's case was dismissed with prejudice and default judgments entered against all corporate defendants for lack of prosecution and against Stoller as a sanction under Rule 11.
During Stoller's 2006 bankruptcy proceedings (see below), Pure Fishing went back to the district court for entry of a Final Judgment. On October 4, 2006, a federal court in Chicago entered final judgment in "Central Mfg. Co., et al. v. Pure Fishing, Inc., et al." The Court declared the case to be "exceptional" under 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a) and ordered Central Mfg. to pay Pure Fishing’s costs, charges and disbursements, including a reasonable attorneys' fees, incurred in the action. The court further ordered that Stoller and his companies were "vexatious litigants" and barred them "from instituting any lawsuit or trademark opposition without prior leave of this Court pursuant to this Court’s authority under the All Writs Act
28 U.S.C.§ 1651(a)."Cite web|url=http://www.roylance.com/Uploads/CentralMfgCo/Amended%20Answer%20and%20CC.pdf|title=Central Mfg. Co. vs. Pure Fishing, Inc.|accessdate=2007-01-13] The court also cancelled the marks asserted in the Complaint. Stoller filed a Notice of Appeal from the October 4 judgment and has moved to stay the enforcement of the said judgment pending the appeals.
On December 12, 2006, the Court entered judgment in favor of Pure Fishing, Inc. in the total amount of $969,751.81.Press release (December 14, 2006). [http://www.bannerwitcoff.com/press_releases/win969_1.pdf Banner & Witcoff Wins $969k in Trademark Infringement Case.] ]
Target and Google trademark claims
Stoller filed an opposition with the TTAB in April 2006 to
Target Storesbulls-eye logo.
In 2006, Stoller filed an opposition to
exercise balls. Stoller claims that the "Google" mark has become generic, yet also claims that it infringes on prior alleged rights to the name held by Stoller's company. [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/ttabvue-91170256-OPP-1.pdf] The case against the Google mark, however, was dismissed with prejudice at the instigation of Stoller's trustee in bankruptcy, who is empowered to take action in all cases in which Stoller and his companies are involved. [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/ttabvue-92045778-CAN-39.pdf] Subsequently, on January 19, 2007, Google filed a suit against Stoller's companies alleging violations of the anti- racketeeringRICO law. [http://www.roylance.com/Uploads/CentralMfgCo/Complaint%20FILED.pdf]
April 2, 2008the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judgment in favor of Google, on the ground that the case had been pursued using contradictory principles, both treating those companies as extensions of Stoller himself, and as separate legal entities. The case was remanded to the lower court for further action. The court noted, however, that Stoller remained subject to an order "directing that all federal courts in [the Seventh Circuit] return unfiled any papers he submits directly or indirectly unless and until he pays a $10,000 fine we imposed against him in August 2007," and "he will have to pay the outstanding sanction or, as a practical matter, face certain default." [ [http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/DD0YWFTX.pdf "Google, Inc. v. Central Mfg. Inc. and Stealth Industries, Inc., Appeals of Leo D. Stoller"] , nos. 07-1569, 07-1612, & 07-1651 (7th Cir. Apr. 2, 2008)]
Current trademark activity
March 17, 2008, an entity calling itself the "Stoller Pension and Profit Sharing Plan" filed Application Serial No. 77/424,372 in the USPTO, claiming trademark rights to the word "Stealth" in the fields of boat accessories and various forms of sports equipment and apparel, with a first use in commerce dating back to 1981. [United States Patent and Trademark Office, [http://tarr.uspto.gov/servlet/tarr?regser=serial&entry=77424372 ser. no. 77/424,372] , "STEALTH"] [ [http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2008/03/hes-back-stoller-entity-files.html " He's Back!? Stoller Entity Files Application to Register "STEALTH" in Three Classes"] , the TTABlog, March 27, 2008]
Several jurisdictions have imposed sanctions against Stoller in response to the cases and motions he has brought, and his conduct in prosecuting them.
* U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Trial and Appeal Board: In a July 14, 2006 order by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), Stoller was sanctioned by the Board for filing more than 1100 requests of an extension of time to file oppositions for time period between November 2005 and March 2006.Chapman, Beth [http://www.oblon.com/media/index.php?id=320 Stoller Sanctioned By USPTO’s Trademark Trial & Appeal Board.] Retrieved December 27, 2006.] The Board vacated all the time extensions filed during that time period and prohibits Stoller from filing any additional extensions for two years.Sams, J. David (July 14, 2006). [http://www.oblon.com/files/news/320.pdf Order of USPTO’s Trademark Trial & Appeal Board.] ] Stoller will be able to file extensions again after two years but only if the extension is filed by an attorney. The appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The time for filing any appeal to the district court has lapsed.
* U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois: On March 8, 2007, the Executive Committee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois sanctioned Stoller and entered an injunction precluding him from filing any further lawsuits without first obtaining leave of court.See " [http://home.comcast.net/%7Ejlw28129/Stoller_Exec_Comm_Order.pdf IN RE: Leo Stoller] " (No. 07-cv-01435 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2007). Entered: 03/27/2007]
* U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: On
August 23, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuitimposed a $10,000 fine on Stoller. [http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/DD0YWFTX.pdf "Google, Inc. v. Central Mfg. Inc. and Stealth Industries, Inc., Appeals of Leo D. Stoller"] , nos. 07-1569, 07-1612, & 07-1651 (7th Cir. Apr. 2, 2008), at 7.] Stoller's sanction included an order requiring that all courts within the Seventh Circuit not to accept any papers filed by Stoller, until the fine was paid. In April 2008, the court noted that the sanction remained outstanding.
* U.S. Supreme Court: On
May 27, 2008, the United States Supreme Courtdenied Stoller's motion to proceed " in forma pauperis" and dismissed his petition for certiorari. The court noted that he had "repeatedly abused this Court's process," and directed its clerk not to accept any further filings from Stoller in noncriminal matters unless Stoller made a compete filing in accordance with Supreme Court Rule 33.1 (i.e., forty copies in typeset booklet form) and accompanied by the required filing fee. [ [http://www.supremecourtus.gov/orders/courtorders/052708pzor.pdf "Stoller, Leo v. Attorney Registration"] , no. 07-10194 (May 27, 2007)]
* Other sanctions: In addition to being fined and sanctioned, Stoller or his entities have been ordered to pay their opponents' attorneys' fees in at least seven reported cases.See e.g. "Central Mfg. Co. et al. v. Brett", 2005 WL 2445898(N.D.Ill. Sept. 30, 2005) (Coar, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Ecolab Inc.", 1999 WL 162785 (N.D.Ill. Mar. 16, 1999) (Gottschall, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Stone Age Equip., Inc.", 12 F. Supp.2d 796, 798-99, 819-20 (N.D. Ill.1998) (Castillo, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Centra 2000, Inc.", 1998 WL 157067 (N.D. Ill. Mar.31, 1998) (Lindberg, J.), aff’d by 249 F.3d 625, 627-29 (7th Cir.2001); "S Indus., Inc. v. Diamond Multimedia Sys., Inc.", 991 F. Supp. 1012 (N.D. Ill.1998) (Andersen, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Diamond Multimedia Sys., Inc.", 17 F. Supp.2d 775 (N.D. Ill.1998) (Andersen, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Diamond Multimedia Sys., Inc.", 1998 WL 641347 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 10, 1998) (Andersen, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Kimberly-Clark Corp.", 1996 WL 388427 (N.D.Ill. July 9, 1996) (Shadur, J.); "S Indus., Inc. v. Hobbico, Inc.", 940 F. Supp. 210, 212 (N.D. Ill.1996) (Shadur, J.).]
On March 1, 1985, Stoller filed for Chapter 13 relief in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Case No. 85-02729.Jack B. Schmetterer (September 26, 2006). [http://www.ilnb.uscourts.gov/JudgeSchmetterer/Opinions/Stoller.pdf Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on Motion of Pure Fishing to Convert to Chapter 7.] United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division Case No. 05 B 64075 (Chapter 13)]
In 2001, Stoller made a bankruptcy filing for his litigation entity, S Industries, Inc., that was filed during the appeal of the "S Industries, Inc. v. Centra" 2000 decision (N.D. Ill. 1998) that had levied sanctions against S Industries for oppressive litigation.See discussion at [http://www.roylance.com/publications.asp Roylance, Abrams, Berdo & Goodman Stoller collection] ]
On December 20, 2005, Stoller filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 13, before a final judgment could be entered in the "Pure Fishing" case.Stoller, Leo (December 20, 2005). [http://www.roylance.com/Uploads/CentralMfgCo/Voluntary%20petition%2012-20-05.pdf United States Bankruptcy Court Voluntary Petition, Case No. 05-64075.] ] His petition listed $183,000 in general unsecured claims.Stoller, Leo (17 January 2006). [http://www.roylance.com/Uploads/CentralMfgCo/ch%2013%20plan.pdf Stoller Chapter 13 plan.] ] This had the effect of an automatic stay on the litigation. Although the case against the corporate entities might have continued, Judge Lindberg stayed the case against those entities as well "in view of the unique relationship" between Stoller and his corporate entities. Pure Fishing filed a claim in the bankruptcy case and asked the court to convert Stoller's case from Chapter 13 (debtor controlled reorganization) to Chapter 7 (liquidation), with the immediate appointment of a trustee to manage the financial estate. Following a trial on the motion in August 2006, the case was immediately converted with trustee Richard M. Fogel appointed on September 5, 2006.Neary, William T. (September 5, 2006). [http://www.roylance.com/Uploads/CentralMfgCo/Trustee%20letter%20of%20appointment.pdf Trustee letter of appointment for Richrd M. Fogel.] ] The detailed opinion by Judge Jack B. Schmetterer of the bankruptcy court spells out in great detail how Stoller operated his business. A Notice of Appeal was filed by Stoller, who also moved to stay all proceedings pending resolution of his appeal. Stoller has also moved to disqualify the trustee on the grounds that he is biased and prejudiced against Stoller and not operating within the best interest of the estate. The court denied Stoller's motion, and Stoller's appeal was denied.
On October 5, 2006, trustee Richard M. Fogel's authority was extended to include actions as sole share holder of all corporate entities owned or controlled by Stoller,See USPTO [http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/ttabvue-91164582-OPP-29.pdf Agreed Motion to Dismiss in Opposition No. 91164582] at Page 3: Order authorizing the Trustee to act on behalf of debtor's wholly-owned corporations and related relief.] October 12, 2006.] thus relieving Stoller of his ability to act as a representative of his corporations or proprietorships.Welch, John L. (October 16, 2006). [http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2006/10/stoller-bankruptcy-trustee-willing-to.html Stoller Bankruptcy Trustee Willing to Dismiss Pending Proceedings.] ]
August 8, 2007, the bankruptcy court approved an auction and sale under which Stoller's trademark assets were transferred to the Society for the Prevention of Trademark Abuse, LLC, the sole bidder in the auction, for $7,500. [http://home.comcast.net/%7Ejlw28129/SPTA_letter_to_J_Welch.pdf Letter from Lance Johnson to John Welch] ]
Notes and references
* [http://rentamark.blog.com/ Stoller's Blog]
* [http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2006/05/ttablog-presents-leo-stoller.html The TTABlog Presents: The Leo Stoller Collection]
* [http://www.chillingeffects.org/trademark/notice.cgi?NoticeID=248 Stealth v. Stealth Signal, on Chilling Effects]
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