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A tangled Web Featured

9:35am EDT July 22, 2002
Eric H. Bryant expects to wake up later this month a multimillionaire.

This is not the pipe dream of a man who hopes to hit it big buying tickets through a state-run lottery. Nor of someone waiting for the executor of a will to reveal an inheritance.

However, Bryant did recently receive what he views as a government sanctioned validation of his plan to sell "As Seen On The Internet," a trademarked logo and a Web address he soon plans to own.

Bryant applied for the service mark in September 1997 to promote a book he had written and was selling online. On Oct. 10, 1998, the young entrepreneur learned there was a problem.

"What happened was, as soon as it became a registered service mark, a company, Tel America Media, decided that they wanted to have it," Bryant explains. "There's a little quirk in the trademark law where anybody has a trademark, anybody can sue and claim that it infringes on their mark or that it shouldn't be a registered trademark.

"They (were) trying to say it shouldn't be a registered trademark because they wanted to have it."

Bryant had offered Tel America Media Inc. the rights to the trademark and a 48-month lease, but it turned him down.

"They said, 'No, we're just going to take it,'" Bryant recalls. "I decided to fight it myself. I thought, 'This will be good legal experience.' If I lose it, I lose it. So what. There're worse things in life. I did all of my own legal research. So I became, in essence, a paralegal. I would respond to legal (filings) they sent."

All along, Bryant believed he had a pretty good shot at winning the suit. The phrase "As Seen On TV" was successfully trademarked years ago, so, as far as Bryant figured, it was just a matter of time before he prevailed, as well.

The battle with Tel America lasted nearly two years. On Aug. 14 of this year, Bryant received a briefly worded document notifying him of the cancellation of the suit and of his victory. The notice came from the U.S. Department of Commerce Patent and Trademark Office.

The document issued by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board read, in part, " ... judgment is hereby entered against petitioner under Trademark Rule 2.128 (a) (3), and the petition to cancel is dismissed with prejudice."

The young entrepreneur now hopes to turn that victory into $37 million.

"What I plan on doing with the domain name is selling it at an auction some time in October," he says. "The list price is going to be for $37 million, but that includes the domain name, (and) two years of exclusive rights to the "As Seen On The Internet" trademark. They can put it on everything. They will be the only people in the country allowed to do that."

How did he arrive at that lofty price?

"The domain itself, I would look at the price for 'As Seen On TV. That was $5 million," he says. "This is worth at least twice as much as that is, because it's going to be very exclusive. So that would be the $10 million. The $27 million, I divided what the licensing rights were now that "As Seen On The Internet" is court tested. That came out to $13-1/2 million a year."

But Bryant is realistic.

"I'm sure it's not going to go for $37 million at all," he says. "After further looking at, this is the record for the amount asked and it's probably going to be the amount for the record sold."

So Bryant expects the offer to be valued between $10 million and $12 million, and for some of it to be in the form of stock options or other considerations.

The past

Bryant is no stranger to big ideas or the intricacies of trademark law.

As a seventh grader, Bryant developed a basketball game that could be played on paper. It became the hit of the school. Several years later, when he became part owner of a printing company, Bryant tried to turn the idea into a product that could be sold inside high school students' notebooks -- that way the teachers would hate them and they would be assured of popularity.

At the age of 21, Bryant began looking for a partner to sell what he called Notebook Games and contacted school-supply company Mead. Six months later, Tyco was selling the idea. According to Bryant, his mistake was registering the phrase as a trade name and not a trademark. Needless to say, his first million-dollar idea was gone.

A few years later, he was stopped for speeding. The police officer -- Bryant still remembers the name and clearly bears resentment -- was rude. When Bryant tried to protest the treatment in court, the judge refused to listen. Bryant thought there was a better way to handle the situation.

So after a little research, he published a book, "Arrest Me Not," and began marketing it over the Web. This is when he began using the phrase "As Seen On The Internet" and his latest ordeal began. Executives at the Oprah Winfrey show found Bryant through the Web site and he appeared on her program.

At the time, he was working in an art gallery. While on a buying trip in Greece with the gallery owner, the two made a bet -- Bryant putting up the rights to his book, and the owner, her store. Bryant lost, and when they returned to the States, he transferred the book rights to his boss.

He still retains rights to the cassette and Web site.

The future

Bryant doesn't plan on stopping with just the trademark. He says he will also soon own AsSeenOnTheInternet.com.

"The reason that I got the trademark was to promote Web sites that are online," Bryant says. "I have a cybersquatter that is cybersquatting the name AsSeenOnTheInternet.com."

He has sent a cease-and-desist order to the man who registered the domain name and tried to sell it for $4 million. And he plans to go after the many people who have registered variations of the phrase. There are more than 30.

"Eventually, what I'm going to do with all of the rest of those domain names is I'm going to sue all these people and have the domain names cancelled. And the only ones that will stay valid are AsSeeOnTheInternet.com, net and org."

So what does Bryant plan to do with his expected millions?

Pay off some debts. Provide for his wife and her five children. Buy a Ferrari and a vacation home. And, donate most of the money to charity. Never one to rest, Bryant also has plans for a building in the Flats.

"That was one of the things I wanted to do in life," he says. "I wanted to sign this huge professional contract for some massive amount of money, the way that Jordan did, the way that Magic Johnson did."

But as he gets older, Bryant realizes playing in the NBA isn't going to happen. He'll settle for courtside season tickets.

And though he may not be signing a contract for millions of dollars, in a few weeks he may be able to live like he has. How to reach: Eric H. Bryant, (216) 556-3144

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.