Meet The 25-Year-Old Who Saved “SEO” From Being Trademarked

Rhea DrysdaleBack in April 2008, Jason Gambert began his attempt to trademark SEO. But last week, Gambert’s claim was formally blocked. That wasn’t due to a big company or industry group fighting it. It came down to a few individuals in the SEO industry, with ultimately one woman — Rhea Drysdale — who fought to the end using her own money and time to beat it.

The challenge began when SEOmoz filed the first opposition to the trademark in 2008. However, the company never pursued this further due to their legal spat with Ripoff Report. Jonathan Hochman of Hochman Consultants‘s complaint with the USPTO was sought through the whole way, but it ultimately did not succeed. also filed oppositions, but did not appear to keep at the case.

It was ultimately 25-year Rhea who kept going to the end. Rhea, who has been part of the SEO industry since 2004 and recently helped found Outspoken Media as its Chief Operating Officer, put two years of her life and nearly $20,000 of her own money, to fight this battle for the industry. On March 11, 2010, the USPTO has officially terminated Gambert’s trademark registration in favor for her opposition.

Here is the statement from the USPTO document:

The Board’s order of October 29, 2009 made clear that applicant was to supplement his responses to opposer’s discovery requests within twenty days of the order. The order further stated, in no uncertain terms, that “opposer’s attorney is to be in receipt of applicant’s responses within twenty days.” Applicant was warned that his failure to comply with the Board’s order “in any way” would be grounds for an entry of judgment against him. Applicant’s failure to comply with the twenty day deadline cannot be overlooked. We agree with opposer that applicant cannot rely on Trademark Rule 2.119 or the Federal Rules in this instance. The record is clear that opposer’s attorney was not in receipt of applicant’s supplemental responses within twenty days of the order or November 18, 2009. Moreover, our review of the untimely supplemental responses of applicant submitted in conjunction with opposer’s reply brief reveal that applicant’s responses remain, on the whole, deficient. Our patience with applicant has worn thin.

In view thereof, opposer’s motion for sanctions is granted.

The opposition is sustained, and registration is refused to applicant.

When Rhea noticed that attention from the various industry bloggers, including myself, did not stop Gambert from moving forward with his SEO trademark application, she decided to take matters into her hands. With the initial help from the companies listed above, and Michael VanDeMar and Jim Hedger, she hired lawyer Cheryl Meide from Meide Law with her own money — $17,004.33 in the end — to block the trademark request.

Rhea explains today she learnt a lot from this process. She says she is “much more business-savvy” now and ultimately has this win to show for it. She told us that she’s never asked for money in the battle nor feels like the industry owes her anything. She doesn’t regret this decision, although it was both emotionally and financially taxing for her. But she is happy that she was able to help an industry that is still relatively new and growing.

Is there a way for people to donate after the fact? We’re hoping Rhea will establish some means that people or companies could contribute. But she said she’s not looked into the right way this could happen, nor is she sure that she will:

If it becomes an issue I’ll try to set something up. Otherwise, I liked one tweet about not having to buy drinks at conferences. Maybe a lifetime supply of diet cokes!

I think we all owe Rhea, and all those involved in this process, a deep sense of gratitude for helping fight the attempt to trademark SEO. Rhea, and people like her, they are what makes the SEO industry so special.

Donation Information: Rhea finally allowed us to post her PayPal address so that we, the industry, can help in our own little way. Her PayPal address is

It is important to note that Jonathan Hochman also spent about $10,000 in court trying to battle this case. His opposition did not succeed, but that was not his fault. I do not have his PayPal address but you can contact him at this page.

Postscript #3: Rhea has posted a thank you to the industry and for all the kind words and donations.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features: General | Legal: Trademarks | SEM Industry: Community | SEM Industry: General | Top News


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Jonathan Hochman

    Clarification: my opposition was not abandoned. We filed a brief requesting a decision that as a matter of law, SEO is a generic term that cannot be trademarked by anybody. For whatever reason our request was refused and our opposition was dismissed. Rhea took a different approach and was successful.

  • Barry Schwartz

    Ah, thanks for clarifying Jonathan.

  • Winooski

    Thanks Jonathan, and a HUGE thanks to Rhea for her tenacity and integrity. Count me among the folks who’d contribute to a fund to defray her legal costs.

  • Davor Bomestar

    Thank you Rhea, Jonathan and others who were a part of this. And of course SELand for letting us know about this.
    It motivates me when I see how much just one persistent person can accomplish.

  • Duane Forrester

    First off, Rhea’s 25?! WOW! That explains her perpetually youthful look. :)

    Seriously, though, Rhea – thanks. It’s moves like yours that are making a big difference for folks in the industry, whether they are paying attention or not!

  • Stupidscript

    Thanks, Rhea.

    That being said, the actual result was that the patent supplicant failed to provide procedural documents to the opposing party in a manner prescribed by the court. That’s it. There has been no ruling on the application aside from that. This is not settled in any meaningful way, and Gambert could simply begin his quest to register SEO all over again, because there is no legal basis to dissuade him.

    IF the trademark office had agreed with Jonathan Hochman’s position (or anything related to prior art or any other number of legally valid grounds), AND they had rejected the application based on those grounds, then we would have cause to rejoice.

    But, as it stands, the fight WILL go on, as there has been NO decision made in this issue, and it still may turn out that the time and money Ms. Drysdale has spent on this will have been wasted due to the filing of a new effort to apply this trademark, and a resumption of the legal battle.

    Hopefully, she is willing to pick up again with the next attempt. Otherwise, who’s left?

  • Jon

    Regardless of what happens from here, Rhea’s efforts will not have been wasted. The level of awareness and support generated in the SEO community today has been worth it alone.

    If the fight does go on, there will now be a whole bigger team on the “good” side of the battle.

  • Nathan727

    Congratulations to Rhea Drysdale. It was truly worth the effort. Thanks to you, we all have to benefits the fruits of your hard work. Hats off! I’m sure that all the rest of the SEO companies will be indirely grateful to you.

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