A Tennessee adjuster sued by Nationwide Insurance for alleged trademark infringement because he used the company’s slogan, On Your Side, in his firm’s name and marketing, is fighting back in court and on the web.
Jeremy Snyder, owner of On Your Side Adjusting, acting as his own lawyer, has filed a court response to Nationwide’s complaint in which he maintains he is the victim of a “willful” and “malicious” campaign by the insurer to protect, not the slogan, but what he alleges have been years of the insurer’s own deceptive and false advertising.
Snyder says being his own lawyer will keep down his costs, part of his strategy to weather what could be a lengthy legal tangle with the giant insurer.
Snyder defends his past use of On Your Side in his company’s name as a “fair use” of the slogan that represented what he as an adjuster does, while arguing that the insurer cannot be “on the side” of a policyholder and is therefore misleading the public when using the slogan.
He accuses Nationwide of also suing him for revenge because he represented some Nationwide claimants against the insurer.
Nationwide filed suit against Snyder and his firm on Feb. 28 at U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. The complaint charges On Your Side Adjusters and Snyder with trademark infringement, false designation and unfair competition.
In its complaint, Nationwide said its concern is that Snyder’s use of the mark will cause “confusion, mistake, and deception” for consumers and the marketplace and “dilute the distinctiveness” of the mark.
Snyder filed his 245-page response and complaint on April 24.
Snyder claims he had stopped using all On Your Side material and was effectively put out of business before he was even served with Nationwide’s complaint — which he says Nationwide knew but sued anyway.
His complaint alleges that Nationwide has destroyed his Gallatin, Tenn.-based adjusting business and caused him as sole owner to personally lose profits.
He alleges that the insurer “made a major blunder” in 1966 by building its company around a slogan that is false advertising and is now trying to protect what he alleges is a marketing conspiracy.
“Evidence will show that this case has not been brought by the Plaintiff to protect a trademark. The Plaintiff could not sanely fear that their 200 billion dollar company will be confused with or diluted by a small public adjusting company out of Middle Tennessee who uses a ‘Fair Use’ descriptive term in their company name that the Plaintiff feels resembles its slogan,” Snyder writes in his complaint.
“Plaintiff’s real agenda, an agenda in which it cannot raise in court, is the fear that if people are marketed a company who actually, descriptively, and by definition works on their side within the insurance claim process, the Plaintiff feels confusion may arise that will cause reasonable consumers to question, who in fact is actually working on their side.”
For a remedy, Snyder is seeking an injunction barring Nationwide from ever again using the On Your Side slogan, treble damages of at least $75 million for the monetary loss of his business for 10 years, and punitive damages of at least $50 million.
Snyder likely faces a long road ahead.
Attorney Brian Smith of the law firm Smith Sholar Milliken in Snyder’s own town of Gallatin has 30 years of experience in intellectual property. Smith believes Snyder might actually have a chance with a judge or jury since they tend to be more sympathetic to individuals than to large insurance companies.
“If he lasts financially and gets before a judge, he has some pretty good arguments,” Smith told Insurance Journal.
However, Smith says it is unlikely Snyder will get that far because getting there will take too long and cost too much.
“They [Nationwide] will bury him in a 3-foot high stack of discovery documents and it will drag on forever,” he said. “Unless he’s got a lot of money, they will just outlast him.”
For his part, Snyder says he is aware of the danger of being outspent and outlasted by Nationwide. He says that is why he has not yet hired a lawyer and plans to minimize his expenses as the case trudges along.
“Without a high priced international law firm running up a bill on every little task on my side, such as Nationwide has on their side, I am able to stick it out financially for as long as it takes. Only Nationwide will truly lose financially on such delays,” Snyder told Insurance Journal.
“This case will eventually go to trial and we will win! To sum it up, I am not going anywhere because of financial restraints. ”
Snyder says a trial could happen in September 2015.
To be fair to Nationwide, Gallatin attorney Smith says the insurer is only doing what it has to do. “They have to sue and it’s not personal. I know he [Snyder] thinks it’s personal but it’s not,” Smith says.
Under the dilution theory of trademark law, Smith says Nationwide has to fight any other use of its trademark or the company risks losing it or having it become a generic term or phrase.
That is much what Nationwide spokesman Joe Case told Insurance Journal:
“Nationwide’s famous On Your Side slogan is a valuable asset and we owe it to our members and consumers to protect this unique brand component. The root issue in this situation remains the protection of Nationwide’s intellectual property and avoiding consumer confusion. Nationwide will respond to the defendant’s counter claim in court at the appropriate time.”
According to Smith, there are unlikely to be any intellectual property lawyers willing to take Snyder’s case on a contingency—except perhaps one hungry for publicity.
Snyder isn’t just fighting in court; he’s also fighting on the web.
He has converted his former firm’s website at onyoursideadjusters.com into a site devoted to questioning Nationwide’s own use of the slogan, with articles, polls, apparent testimonials and voiceovers accompanying the headline, “Is Nationwide really on your side, or are they using deceptive marketing?”
In a March 31, 2014 correspondence to Nationwide, Snyder outlined plans to start a campaign against Nationwide and launch a public campaign complete with website and television commercials to get the insurer to stop using the On Your Side slogan. He offered to cease his campaign and surrender ownership of onyoursideadjusters.com if Nationwide paid him $3 million and dropped its suit against him.
Nationwide declined that offer.
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