The Ho Shebang

The legal equivalent of a catfight between two hookers battling over the same turf was the last thing on Tempe pizzeria owner Domenick Montanile's mind when he distributed fliers advertising an upcoming "Pimp & Ho" costume party at his restaurant several weeks ago.

But that's pretty much what happened when a local party promoter who calls himself Dis-go marched into Pepino's Pizza on three different occasions last month. Dis-go repeatedly threatened Montanile with legal action over the restaurant owner's use of black street vernacular for members of the world's oldest profession and their agents.

"He claimed he owned the trademark to 'Pimp & Ho' and that he was going to sue us," reports Montanile. "He was rude, really kind of nasty. When he'd come in when I wasn't here, he'd really get into it with my wife."

Eager to get the promoter off his back, Montanile opted to cancel the event.

"Looking back, though, I'm kind of pissed that I did," says the restaurateur, who has since learned that other clubs, including Axis, went ahead with similar promotions with no repercussions -- even after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Dis-go.

Still, Montanile wonders how anyone can legally claim ownership to such a generic bar promotion name, one in the same league with "Wet Tee Shirt Contest," "Mud Wrestling" or "Ladies Night."

As it turns out, Dis-go (née David Woodward, a sometime strip-joint deejay) doesn't actually own Arizona trademark rights to the phrase "Pimp & Ho," which he's used to promote house parties and club events over the past several years.

He does, however, own Arizona rights to the puzzling phrase "PIMP & HO/OH 8 CHIC" -- a trademark he successfully registered, with the blessings of Arizona Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, on March 6, 1998. The certificate, which expires in 2008, was issued after Dis-go submitted at least three pieces of evidence -- fliers, ads and the like -- that established he'd used the phrase as part of his business since 1997.

Dis-go says "OH 8 CHIC" is how the lettering on one of his "PIMP & HO" stickers reads when turned upside down. But for some reason, in a photocopy of the state trademark certificate Dis-go supplied to New Times, the second half of the trademark was whited-out. Dis-go says his roommate did it.

Still, being the oldest whore on the block doesn't count for much with the Arizona trademark office -- unless you use your whole name.

"If he wants to enforce this trademark, he's got to use the entire registered name, not just selective words like 'Pimp & Ho,'" says Connie Copeland, business services director for the Secretary of State's Office. "Otherwise, anyone who happened to have a word like 'barbecue' or 'plumbing' in their trademark could go after anyone else who happened to have those words in their name, too."

But the generic nature of Dis-go's trademark seems to bother Copeland less than a state statute that forbids registration of trademarks that are "immoral, deceptive or scandalous."

"Obviously, whether 'pimp & ho' falls into one of these categories is a subjective decision," says Copeland. "I didn't work here when this particular application came through, so I can't tell you what happened. If it happened today, though, I'd turn it over to our legal department. This one has red flags all over it."

At least one observer says that Dis-go shouldn't be too surprised if he receives a revocation notice from the same people who gave his red-light moniker the green light in the first place.

"Typically, it's very difficult to get a generic term trademarked," says Jeremy Rowe, who teaches information technology at Arizona State University. "Licensing something like 'Pimp & Ho' seems to be an unbelievable tactical flaw on the government's part; it could be challenged and reverted. That sort of astounds me they'd [issue a trademark] like that."

Because of the sheer volume of trademark applications that pass through the state each year (more than 19,000 during the past fiscal year, according to Copeland), Rowe theorizes that Dis-go might have just gotten lucky and fallen through the cracks.

That luck seems to have run out.

After learning last week that he can't just enforce only the first half of his trademarked phrase, he unsuccessfully asked the Secretary of State's Office to expunge "OH 8 CHIC."

The state "treated me, like, totally differently than they did the first time," he says.

Still, the 30ish promoter hasn't lost his faith in the state's efforts to protect his claim to lowlife revelries.

"Right now," he says, "I'm trying to trademark 'WIFEBEATER -- A TANK TOP AFFAIR.'"

Contact Dewey Webb at his online address: [email protected]

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Dewey Webb