5 Oct

The Gleissner Files: investigation reveals massive scope of entrepreneur’s global trademark and domain portfolio

  • Domain and trademark portfolio of entrepreneur Michael Gleissner revealed
  • Vast data set of nearly 9,000 companies, trademarks and domains
  • Expert claims scale is unprecedented, and brand owners should take notice

The vast domain name and trademark portfolio of entrepreneur and film producer Michael Gleissner can be revealed following an extensive investigation by World Trademark Review. Steeped in mystery, the operation spans at least 36 countries with an estimated cost of close to $750,000 for trademark filings alone. Due to the breadth of this ongoing activity, and with high-profile brands such as BMW, Western Digital and even US President Donald Trump currently challenging some of his marks, every rights holder should take notice.

German-born Michael Gleissner is described on Wikipedia as an “entrepreneur, film producer, director, screenwriter, actor, photographer and musician”. His career to date has been wildly multi-faceted; he is known as an early online pioneer in web hosting, and has founded companies including media entities Bigfoot Entertainment and Fashion One. However, it is his rampant trademark activity that has come to the attention of rights holders over the past 12 months.

As we first reported in August last year, Gleissner has personally registered over a thousand UK company names in which he is the sole director. Those organisations have been used as the applicant name on trademark applications filed around the world. His domain name portfolio similarly runs into the thousands. The company names, domains and trademarks are mostly for single commonly-used words, many for animals, colours, and forenames. There are also examples of well-known brand names (eg, Baidu, iPhone, Tesla) and IP offices (eg, EUIPO) that have been applied for. The business strategy behind this portfolio has been unclear; some commentators assume it is related to domain name acquisitions, although one anonymous insider denied this and told us that the business plan is focused on the creation of “brand incubators”. We have attempted to contact Gleissner numerous times but have so far been unsuccessful (we reached out again for this article but received no response).

Over the past couple of weeks, World Trademark Review – along with assistance from trademark watching platform CompuMark – has built up an extensive data set in an attempt to measure the scope of Gleissner’s global portfolio, all of which is based on publically available information. After collating it into a single document, The Gleissner Files, it reveals more than 1,100 registered company names, over 2,500 trademark applications and 5,300 domain names – the scope of which has been described by one expert as more “organised”, “professional” and “sophisticated” than anything they’ve seen before.

Trademarks spanning the globe

As the data reveals, the number of trademarks filed by entities that appear to be related to Gleissner has grown significantly since we last attempted to track them last year. Back then, we recorded 250 applications associated with Gleissner at the USPTO. Today, that figure appears to stand at 756. In fact, the prolific nature of his recent trademark activity in the US means his trademark filing firm of choice, small New York law firm Morton & Associates, is currently the sixth highest filer of trademark applications in the US so far this year. The most common legal representative for Gleissner-related filing at the firm is Jonathan Grant Morton, a former USPTO patent examiner who is listed on LinkedIn as a partner at Morton & Associates and also general counsel at Gleissner's companies Bigfoot Entertainment and Fashion One

A significant proportion of the US marks reference foreign trademarks for priority, and we recorded a further 1,767 marks linked with Gleissner entities filed around the world. As our breakdown of the jurisdictions indicates (below), the UK is the second most used destination for applications, followed by Portugal and Benelux.

The Gleissner Files: most used trademark jurisdictions

  1. United States – 756 trademark applications
  2. United Kingdom – 652
  3. Portugal – 394
  4. Benelux – 380
  5. Canada – 89
  6. Mexico – 67
  7. European Union – 55
  8. Turkey – 27
  9. Philippines – 21
  10. France – 17

In Benelux and the UK, two offices which do not refuse marks on relative grounds, the registration rate is significantly higher than the total average (of 42.6%). In the UK, of the 652 marks related to Gleissner, 71.9% have reached registration (with a further 24.4% still pending). In Benelux, 68.7% have reached registration (with 21.1% still pending). Meanwhile, the Portugal applications – wherein examiners can refuse on relative grounds – the figure is still high, with 58.9% registered (and 28.7% still pending).

The Gleissner Files: current status of all trademark applications

  • Application pending – 1,314 (52.1%)
  • Application registered – 1,074 (42.6%)
  • Application cancelled – 53 (2.1%)
  • Application refused – 39 (1.5%)
  • Application abandoned – 37 (1.5%)
  • Application withdrawn – 6 (0.2%)

With over 1,000 applications now registered (and a further 1,314 that could reach registration), Gleissner already has a sizeable trademark portfolio. A costly one too; in total, according to our estimate, the applications alone would have cost just under $750,000. In theory, that cost will be significantly higher due to, among other things, the staff cost of responding to amendments and oppositions. As we reported previously, marks related to Gleissner are currently being opposed by businesses of all sizes. In our latest analysis, we found at least 13 marks currently in opposition proceedings at the EUIPO, including the mark PEPPER being opposed by BMW, and distribution giant Connect Group opposing the mark CONNECT. In the UK, the mark TRUMP TV is currently being opposed by DTTM Operations LLC, the New York-based entity used to protect the intellectual property of US president Donald Trump. Furthermore, a number of registered marks are being sought for cancellation, including the UK mark PURPLE.COM which Western Digital is seeking to cancel. Apple has also been a previous foe in proceedings.

Unprecedented in scope

The scale of Gleissner’s activity is virtually unheard of, according to Robert Reading, director of custom & managed solutions at CompuMark. “We have seen unusual activity before, but only on a small, targeted scale – localised and relatively unsophisticated attempts to obtain trademark rights that clearly infringe well known brands,” he explains, bringing to mind the infamous applications of the so-called Trademark King in 2015, and the ongoing filings of Ikuhiro Ueda in Japan. “However, the Gleissner group of companies operates in an entirely new way; it is more organised (using agents around the world instead of self filing in a local register), more professional (with well thought out filing strategies and specifications) and relatively sophisticated (for example, using Pakistan as a ‘hidden’ register to obtain earlier dated rights and then claiming priority in more transparent registers such as the US). It's clearly a well funded operation too, even if the ultimate aim is unclear, and very persistent.”

Indeed, the sophisticated nature of the filing strategy means it could easily have slipped under the radar. Over 82% of the trademark applications use one of the 1,161 UK company names that Gleissner has personally registered in the past two years – with the names spread out across trademark applications to make tracking nearly impossible. Each of the registered UK company names has Gleissner as the sole director/employee, with nearly all listed at two addresses: Ingles Manor in the UK town of Folkestone, and 207 Regent Street in London. Both addresses are locations of businesses that offer ‘virtual office’ services – Channel Business Services in Folkstone and Hold Everything in London.

The Gleissner Files: most used trademark owner name by applications

  1. Fashion International Limited – 69
  2. Knr Technologies Limited – 58
  3. Ebony International Limited – 50
  4. Kpp Design Limited – 44
  5. Fashion TV Broadcasting Limited – 35
  6. Ebb Development Limited – 34
  7. Truzzi Fashion Limited – 31
  8. Vico International Limited – 29
  9. Bnu Textiles Limited / China Capital Brands Limited / Ckl Citymedia Limited / Viva Technologies Limited – 28
  10. Rainmaker International Limited – 26

But the random nature of the terms being used for trademark applications continues to baffle experts. Compumark’s Reading states it is “hard to identify an overall strategy”, adding: “There are a few categories that appear within the portfolio: a mixture of short ‘dot coms’; Christian names in relation to perfumes; marks that are clearly aimed at a specific target (IPHONE, EUIPO), but it is not clear if there is a single strategy that ties these together.”

Whatever the strategy, there is no doubt that rights holders across the world should pay attention to Gleissner’s activity. “Brand owners should definitely be concerned,” suggests Reading. “Firstly, the ultimate strategy is still open to debate – brand owners might find themselves vulnerable in ways that are not yet apparent, particularly in view of the simultaneous domain name activity by this group. Secondly because of the complex web of applicant/owners involved it is not easy for brand owners to track this activity. Many major IPOs now only examine on absolute grounds, which puts the onus on existing brand owners to monitor and defend their rights. Some IP offices are clearly aware of this activity, but unless laws or regulations are breached they appear to have very limited powers to act on behalf of brand owners.”

Into the breach

If the scale of the trademark portfolio seems large, it pales in comparison to Gleissner’s wealth of domain names. We recorded at least 5,418 domains owned by the entrepreneur (data accessed at ViewDNS.info), with 267 identifying Gleissner as the owner and the rest his domain subsidiary NextEngine Ventures. At the time of going to press, more than 3,000 of the domains are not currently active. A majority of the domains that are active are used in two ways. The first is as a holding page promoting Gleissner’s Fashion One TV channel. The second use is, bafflingly, over 1,500 domains redirecting internet users to a video entitled “Counting Numbers for Kids with Lego Figures”, hosted on the YouTube channel Kiddo TV. The video is currently at 99,000 views, with most comments referencing the unintended redirect that led users to the page. Evidence suggests Michael Gleissner is the owner of Kiddo TV. However, a 2015 interview suggests Kiddo TV’s founder is actually Kaoru Gleissner, who is, according to this wedding video and this 2014 interview, the entrepreneur’s wife.

Some of the domains that Gleissner owns has, in the past, suggested a pattern of typosquatting (eg, ‘frienjdster.com’, ‘hotmaol.com’, ‘hotrmail.com’) and there are current examples of unusual use, such as the copycat website ‘tmview.com’ we wrote about in August. There’s also ‘ui.com’, which appears to be a website for a marketing company. However, the site closely mimics that of Texas-based marketing agency TM, including copying its work and staff pages (there’s no indication the two are related; we’ve contacted TM to confirm). Furthermore, in the past 18 months, Gleissner has lost numerous domains through UDRP actions, and hundreds of the trademark applications are for one-word terms followed by '.com'. Meanwhile, some of the marks – many of which are now registered – appear to match well-known brand names, including BAIDU, IPHONE, ITUNES, and TESLA, and due to most of Gleissner’s trademarks being for a single word, it is possible that clashes exist with other third party product or service names.

For this reason UK IP firm Stobbs IP advises its clients, and all businesses, to be on top of this unusual activity. “Brand owners large and small should remain diligent in checking their IP portfolio, particularly their trading name, domain name and trademarks,” says trademark attorney Richard Ferguson. “This will include assessing whether a mark should be refiled either due to vulnerability, a lack of coverage for potentially useful goods/services or the need to refine a mark to avoid it being trumped by a Gleissner filing.”

To that end, the easily-searchable data in The Gleissner Files should be a handy reference for brand owners. Of course, Gleissner’s domain and trademark portfolio changes by the day, both in size and status. In the absence of an explanation from Gleissner, the strategic endgame of this web of marks and domains will remain shrouded in mystery. But it is worth remembering, as Reading emphasises, the applications do not appear to be breaching any regulations or laws. However, brands should be paying attention to this unique and vast trademark and domain portfolio.

Click here to access the full, searchable data set.

Tim Lince

Author | Senior reporter

[email protected]

Tim Lince