1. No Boundaries in Ford's Legal Department

As readers of the lab's research publications might guess, we here at Five Dumbest Things headquarters staunchly defend the right to make irresponsible fun of fine, upstanding corporate citizens.

Which is why we're a little disappointed in the fine, upstanding folks at Ford ( F).

Because of Ford, you see, one of our favorite Web sites -- we can't use the official title for our family audience, but it's something along the lines of www.f---edcompany.com -- was shut down for two days this summer, according to Philip Kaplan, F---edcompany.com's operator.

As partially documented in a facsimile posted on F---edcompany.com, the wise folks at Ford went after the Web site chronicler of corporate bad news for a variety of what it alleges are "trademark infringements and intellectual property violations." Specifically, says Kaplan, Ford threatened to sue the Internet service provider hosting F---edcompany.com's Web site unless the ISP blocked the offending content. Forwarded Ford's correspondence by his ISP, Kaplan says he deleted the offending content -- posting Ford's correspondence in its place -- but got bumped offline anyway.

Kaplan's ISP, Hostcentric, didn't respond to a request for comment.

And what were the problematic postings on Kaplan's Web site? Stuff like a January 2002 headline for an item about layoffs at Ford: "Ford, where finding a new job is job 1." ("Confusingly similar to Ford's well-known advertising slogan 'Ford, where quality is job 1,'" say Ford's lawyers.) And another headline: "Ford Exploder." ("Confusingly similar to Ford's 'Explorer' registered trademark," says Ford.)


Um, guys? Aren't you aware that this is what headline writers are supposed to do? Yes, shockingly enough, it's their job to make catchy phrases out of relevant words or slogans. The New York Post never got sued for the classic cybersex-related headline a few years ago, "YOU'VE GOT JAIL!" (Confusingly similar to America Online's trademarked expression "AOL staff will never ask for your password or billing information.")

"I did the same thing that you or any other person would do, which is write a silly headline," says Kaplan. "What I did isn't going to hurt Ford any more than them laying off 1,000 people and having it written about."

One lawyer who's gone up against Ford in trademark suit agrees. There's explicit legal precedent, says Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that parodical use of corporate trademarks is constitutionally protected. "The First Amendment gives you the right to make fun of people using their name, and using their trademarked phrases," she says.

Not exactly, says a trademark litigator for Ford, Gregory Phillips of Howard, Phillips & Andersen. To set the record straight, Phillips insists that the company isn't, as others have alleged, trying to muffle criticism. "People are free to criticize Ford. They're free to make fun of Ford," says Phillips. "There are lots of people who do, and Ford doesn't go after them."

To Phillips, the problem is that F---edcompany.com is using trademarks of Ford to get attention for criticism of Ford. "One, these people are free-riding on a famous trademark to market their criticisms, and two, they're tarnishing that famous trademark," says Phillips (who, by the way, says he doesn't have a problem with the AOL headline).

Even parodies, points out Phillips, can be judged to have infringed on a trademark. Over at the EFF, Cohn says the appropriate legal precedent is a judge's recent ruling that the band Aqua's song Barbie Girl didn't infringe on Mattel's ( MAT) famous doll; Phillips says the precedent should be other judges' rulings that a poster with the tagline "Enjoy Cocaine" infringed on Coca-Cola's ( KO) trademark, and a "Mutant of Omaha" T-shirt infringed on an insurance company's.

Whatever. For our part, we're more than a little shocked and insulted that Ford's lawyers haven't gone after us for our own various Ford-related headlines -- out-of-box stuff like "What's Job One Again?" and "Ford Excuses Thousands From Making Quality Job One" and "Where Messing Up Is Job One." Where's the justice in this world?

2. You've Got AOL, Where Dumb Things Are Job One

Maybe we're just short on sleep this week, but this made us laugh.


3. Cadbury-Schweppes, Where Making Light of International Conflict Is Job One

This month's award for Remarkable Achievement in Candy Advertising unquestionably goes to Cadbury Schweppes ( CSG).

As the Associated Press reported late last week, the beverage and confectionary conglomerate has apologized for the ineffable taste of an ad that ran in a Bombay newspaper on the occasion of India's independence day. In an advertisement spotlighting Kashmir, over control of which India has long fought with adjacent Pakistan, the company posed the question, "I'm good. I'm tempting. I'm too good to share. What am I? Cadbury's Temptations or Kashmir?"

Yes, that's an awesome way to advertise chocolate -- compare it to conflict-ridden territory where an estimated 50,000 people have died, and which is on the short list of world hot spots most likely to end in nuclear disaster.

Sneak preview of Cadbury Schweppes' next ad campaign, continuing along the Kashmir-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates theme: "Too Good to Share -- Even After It Melts Down."

4. Peregrine Systems, Meet Adelphia

Yes, we know that the people struggling to keep software developer Peregrine Systems ( PRGNE) in business are just working stiffs. Like all of us, they're trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Same with the people still working at Adelphia Communications ( ADELQ). They're just doing their job.

Still, we can't help shaking our heads at a press release we got this week from IT Masters, a privately held company that develops software designed especially for companies who use certain software from Peregrine.

In it, IT Masters trumpeted the praise of a happy customer for its software, a company that had licensed its suite of software tools for 15 of its workers.

The customer, of course, was Adelphia, described in the IT Masters release as "one of the leading cable companies in the U.S." True, of course, but that's not Adelphia's most distinguishing feature these days.

Fine people at Adelphia. But all we can think of is that if Adelphia is the most impressive client IT Masters can come up with these days, we'd hate to see a list of the also-rans.

5. Rich Get Richer, at Least Temporarily

Yes, we were shocked, shocked this week to find out that high-powered corporate executives get better treatment than we, the little guys.

After some prodding from Congress, Salomon Smith Barney revealed this week that WorldCom's ( WCOEQ) ex-CEO Bernie Ebbers, this-week-indicted former Chief Financial Officer Scott Sullivan and other WorldCom bigwigs regularly received much-sought-after shares in tech companies that Salomon helped bring public.

Once upon a time, we at the Lab naively believed that one of the great benefits of the Great Bull Market was that we had a chance of getting rich, too -- just as much of a chance as the executives already on the top of the heap.

What a load of Great Bull Market that turned out to be.