Obamas try to strong-arm black business woman to give them ‘Higher Ground’ trademark

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have launched a production company in partnership with Netflix.

But they are now embroiled in a battle with a California business owner over the trademark of her company’s name and their new venture, Higher Ground Productions.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The computer training company, Higher Ground Enterprises, was started by Hanisya Massey more than a decade ago and her move to trademark the name in 2017 has now brought her in conflict with the former president and first lady who have been unable to trademark their company’s name due to the similarities, according to The New York Times.

That decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office was the beginning of the battle, with an attorney for the Obamas asking Massey to drop her trademark and use a different name for her business in Covina. The businesswoman, who voted both times for Obama, refused to sell the trademark but suggested she would be interested in negotiating if there was a chance she could be included in a future project with the Obama production company.

But the company’s trademark lawyer, Jim Vana, noted in a statement to Fox Business that while issues have been resolved with others who have had similar trademark issues, the Obamas will not acquiesce to Massey’s “significant demands,” which included having a part in a production.

Massey’s lawyer pushed back on the claim.

“It was not, ‘I want to star in a movie,'” Larry Zerner told the Times. “It was like, ‘Can I get a bit part in something?'”

But as attempts to reach an amicable solution have failed, the Obamas have apparently escalated the case and filed a petition to cancel Massey’s trademark, alleging there is no evidence that the California businesswoman has been actively using the name in her business.

“If there’s not sufficient use of the mark, then the registrant has no rights and the Obamas can go ahead,” Harvard Law School professor Rebecca Tushnet told The Times.

But Massey can sue the Obamas for trademark infringement if she can show that she does, in fact, use the Higher Ground trademarked name in her business dealings.

“It could definitely hurt my business severely,” Massey said. “Because if you Google this, this is the only thing that comes up. And I am pretty much a little needle in the haystack at this point.”

“In no way does this petition hinder their ability to do business – or to operate day-to-day – now or in the future,” Vana said in his statement. “In all our dealings, we have made clear many times that there is an opportunity for an amicable and constructive resolution. In fact, we remain open to discussing options to co-exist in the marketplace, and [Higher Ground Productions] wishes them success in their endeavors.”

But Massey’s attorney is disgusted with the “deplorable” action.

“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,” Zerner said. “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.”

The multi-year deal between the Obamas and Netflix was announced in 2018 and the company’s debut film “American Factory” is currently available to viewers.

“One way at looking at what we’ve both been doing for the last 20 years, maybe most of our careers…was to tell stories. We want to be in relationships with people and connect with them and work together with them,” the former president told The Hollywood Reporter at the couple’s first release as film producers launched last month.

“We want people to be able to get outside of themselves and experience and understand the lives of somebody else, which is what a good story does,” Obama added.

But many on social media agreed that the current trademark story doesn’t really back up the Obamas’ claims of connecting with and understanding others.

Frieda Powers

Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Originally from New York, Powers graduated from New York University and eventually made her way to sunny South Florida where she has been writing for the BizPacReview team since 2015.
Frieda Powers


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