Will.i.am Threatens To Sue Pharrell Over Use Of Phrase “I Am”

Possible legal action — over two short words — pits producer vs producer

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Will.i.am attends a photocall to launch the second series of The Voice at Soho Hotel on March 11, 2013 in London, England.
Mike Marsland / WireImage / Getty Images

Will.i.am at the Soho Hotel on March 11, 2013 in London, England.

While most of us might use the words “I am” multiple times throughout the day, Will.i.am is claiming that only he has the right to use the phrase in commerce. (We’re guessing he’s never heard of Popeye.)

The Black Eyed Peas’ singer is taking legal action against fellow hip-hop star Pharrell Williams over his use of “i am OTHER” for a clothing company. According to court documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Will.i.am believes that Pharrell’s logo is “confusingly similar” to his own trademark “I Am.” Will.i.am’s legal notice argues that registration of Pharrell’s trademark would be “likely to dilute the I AM mark and the WILL.I.AM mark.” In response, lawyers for Williams filed a response defending their use of the “i am OTHER” mark and denying Will.i.am’s charges.

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“I am disappointed that Will, a fellow artist, would file a case against me,” Pharrell said in a statement. “I am someone who likes to talk things out and, in fact, I attempted to do just that on many occasions. I am surprised in how this is being handled and I am confident that Will’s trademark claims will ultimately be found to be as meritless and ridiculous as I do.”

While trademarks must be defended against dilution in order to retain their rights, and Will.i.am’s legal team were probably obligated to defend the mark or risk abandoning it, Will.i.am may have a hard time proving his case. A search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s online trademark database revealed 1,785 other active trademarks that use the phrase “I Am” in some capacity, including one that simply reads “I Am,” for an athletic clothing line owned by DDT Fitness of Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Additionally, will.i.am’s i am clothing online lookbook indicates that the Voice UK judge hasn’t released a new line of clothing since fall 2011 and the mark may not be currently used in commerce as required by U.S. trademark law. That may have something to do with the fact that back in 2012, as TMZ reports the label, I.Am.Clothing, sued the Black Eyed Peas frontman for $2 million for breaking a deal to assist with the brand’s design, marketing and promotion.

Pharrell is the co-founder of the clothing brands Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Clothing as well as the I Am Other.

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