Entrepreneur Definition

Many people are looking for a valid entrepreneur definition, but the very term “entrepreneur” is being challenged by the “bully” of the entrepreneurial world–Entrepreneur Media, Inc. (EMI), publishers of Entrepreneur magazine. EMI is one of the largest resources of information for entrepreneurs around the world…as long as you don’t use the word ENTREPRENEUR in your business.

It seems that EMI owns the U.S. trademark on the word “entrepreneur.” Yup, even though the word is 100’s of years old, commonly used, and derived from the French–EMI holds the trademark. Worse yet, they vigorously defend their trademark as evidenced by just a few of their threats and prosecutions, as follows:

  • A public-relations firm by the name of EntrepreneurPR published a quarterly compilation of press releases called Entrepreneur Illustrated. EMI sued the firm and a federal judge ruled that the firm had to stop using the names, stop publishing the quarterly, and pay EMI $1 million in damages. Of course, the firm shut down and all the employees hit the unemployment lines.
  • EMI stopped 3Entrepreneurs, a small San Diego clothing company, from putting the phrase “Entrepreneur Generation” on T-shirts, sweaters, and hats.
  • A serial entrepreneur in Austin, Texas has recently been targeted for using the domain name of EntrepreneurOlogy.com. He was ordered by EMI’s attorneys to “cease and desist” using his website, and to give his domain name to EMI. Otherwise, he would be sued…and considering the current position of the federal courts on trademark law, EMI would more than likely win (they almost always win).
  • EMI is currently sparring with the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame and Museum, a one-person website based in N.Y. Apparently, this will go the way of EntrepreneurOlogy.com.

EMI goes after a broad spectrum of businesses with the help of Latham & Watkins, a 2,000 attorney corporate law firm with 31 offices around the world. No one is spared, from the one-person website business, to Universities and non-profit organizations, as well as large businesses. There is no tally available, but EMI has sued, or threatened to sue scores of businesses and organizations since the early 1980’s.

Interestingly, the founder of Entrepreneur magazine, John Leonard Burke (aka Chase Revel), was a convicted felon (attempted bank robbery) who also, sometime later, had notes delivered to bank tellers saying their children had been kidnapped and to leave canvas bags of money for him, and the children would be returned. Actually, he did not kidnap the children, nor did he receive any money. However, attempted extortion still carries a penalty.

After his release from prison he started Entrepreneur and then registered the trademark “entrepreneur” in 1979. He eventually sold his enterprise to the current owners in the late 1980’s…and continued to have brushes with the law.

The irony I see in this whole issue of entrepreneur definition is the fact that the people who are at the forefront of promoting entrepreneurship (EMI & Entrepreneur) are the very people who are running roughshod over the entrepreneurs who use the word “entrepreneur” in the definition or promotion of their business. So be very careful how you use the word “entrepreneur” in your business

It also makes me question whether I will ever recommend any product or activity sponsored by EMI or Entrepreneur magazine in the future. I think I will distance myself from this enterprise from here on.

What do you think?

Note: This post is an excerpt taken from an article in Businessweek, (May 23-May29, 2011) authored by Paul M. Barrett.


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