Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly has been at the center of multiple fights that would make a lesser activist or lawyer’s head spin. Yet tragically, it seems her final legal battle may be one against her own family, and against legal principles espoused by her own followers.
A little background: Schlafly’s nephew, Tom Schlafly, happens to be the founder of a craft beer company in St. Louis whose national profile has been steadily growing as a retailer of quality beers. And, in a legally dubious but understandable bit of brand protection, he now seeks to trademark his own last name in order to get the exclusive right to sell beer under that name. This kind of overzealous trademark hunting is fairly standard fare for the Schlafly brewery, as it previously sought to trademark the word “beer,” something that many other companies would probably have understandable concerns about.
However, Tom Schlafly’s famous cousin Phyllis appears to have been fine with this particular creative use of trademarks to bolster the family name…unless it actually involves the family name. USA Today reports:
With a growing national profile and new owners who might want to expand, the brewery started by Tom Schlafly more than two decades ago is seeking a trademark that would give it the exclusive right to use the Schlafly name to sell craft beer. But Phyllis Schlafly has asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny the request, lest any implied association with beer sully her 60-year political career.
“There are tens of millions of Americans who oppose alcohol,” said Andrew Schlafly, a New Jersey lawyer who represents his mother in the matter. “Certainly alcohol has a connotation that is the opposite of conservative values.”
Phyllis Schlafly, now 89, lives in a St. Louis suburb and continues to lead the Eagle Forum, the group she created to prevent ratification of the proposed constitutional amendment on women’s rights. These days, the forum fights issues such as same-sex marriage and federal education standards.
And you know what? Silly though it might be to suggest that alcohol is “the opposite of conservative values” (Joseph Coors, a major conservative “Funding Father,” might have disagreed), Schlafly has a point. She should be able to use her name for what she wants, and her nephew should be able to use it to sell beer, but not at the exclusion of her own usage of her name. One might even say that trying to trademark a surname alone (as opposed to something more specific like “Schlafly beer”) smacks a bit of patent trolling.
Which means Schlafly is, like so many innovative companies, the victim of a patent troll.
There’s just one problem: She vehemently opposes doing anything to stop such creatures. Schlafly has already publicly come out against patent reform, and this week, Eagle Forum, along with the American Conservative Union, launched an ad campaign publicly attacking patent reform legislation. They even go so far as to claim that “the founders would have hated it,” no small invocation in conservative circles.
In other words, if Schlafly wants the law to make it harder for a relative to monopolize her own name, she now has to contend with not just his position, but arguably even her own.
Really, with a career as sterling as Schlafly’s, this kind of degrading, internecine family fight is the last thing she deserves. Iit also reveals about the unintended consequences of defending an overzealous trademark holder, when that trademark holder turns on you. And it’s a cautionary tale for conservatives who might otherwise find themselves worried by her organization’s hardline stance against patent reform.
Schlafly’s career will always deserve our respect, having included the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and even coining the phrase “a choice, not an echo” about Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964. However her choice not to echo herself on this issue in the face of family tragedy risks reducing her organization’s advocacy to farce.