NLP Comprehensive Lawsuit Response


To: The NLP Community
From: Steve & Connirae Andreas, Lara Ewing
Date: June 5, 1997

After many years of threats, Richard Bandler has filed a lawsuit naming twelve individuals and entities and 200 "Does" (names to be filled in later). This suit is vitally important to the NLP Community because Richard is basically (retroactively) claiming sole ownership of the entire field; if he continues his current actions, it is likely that all prominent individuals in the field will eventually be sued.

This document is to present you with basic information:
1. What has happened thus far?
2. What are the legal issues?
3. What do we do about it?

If you have any ideas about how to transform this potentially difficult and divisive situation into something that is a positive opportunity for growth and connection for us all (including one of our mentors, Richard Bandler), please bring them forward. Please send blessings, love, light/sound to this situation and all of us involved.

What the Suit is About:

Although there are a number of issues, and different issues apply to different named defendants, basically Bandler is asserting ownership of the Society of NLP, and through that ownership of the intellectual property known as NLP, and the exclusive right to market NLP and certify at all levels of NLP training. This is consistent with his published statements in recent years. In the back of Persuasion Engineering, Bandler asserts that the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is trademarked and is the only organization that can legitimately certify in NLP. Anyone not certified through the society is described as follows: "Either the person and/or organization is defrauding the public, or they have been defrauded themselves by another organization purporting to be a certifying organization."

The "certification and license agreement" that Bandler has been requiring all his training participants to sign since sometime in 1991 or 1992 begins with the following:

"This Agreement is made with reference to the following facts:
1. The Licensor owns all right, title and interest in the copyrighted and trademarked intellectual property known as NLP™/Neuro-Linguistic Programming™ and Design Human Engineering™."

The Issues:

Bandler’s suit includes a variety of issues, which can be sorted into three broad categories:
1. Trademark infringement: The seal of the society is trademarked; NLP is not trademarked, but Richard is alleging trademark rights.
2. Intellectual property ownership of NLP: Broad rights to teach, license, market, merchandise and certify in NLP.
3. "Conspiratorial tortious interference" with Richard’s entitlements and economic advantage deriving from his alleged rights.

A fourth issue involves only John Grinder, regarding an agreement with Richard signed in 1981.

What Bandler Wants:

The total damages sought by Bandler amount to "no less than"(!) 90 million dollars PER INDIVIDUAL SUED." He is further asking for a permanent injunction preventing anyone from:

"a. Participating in any manner in any presentation to any member of the public where the subject matter involves, arises out of, or relates to, the training and certification of NLP;
b. Sponsoring, producing, or otherwise arranging for NLP programs;
c. Certifying other individuals as NLP practitioners, trainers or in any other NLP designation;
d. Issuing NLP certificates;
e. Misrepresenting expressly or by implication that an NLP program is being given under the auspices or with the approval of plaintiff BANDLER or the SOCIETY;" etc.!

Current Actions:

Our legal advice, from highly-qualified intellectual property lawyers, is that we are in good legal standing. We also believe we have made fair agreements with Richard over the years, and know that our collaborative efforts have resulted in substantial income for him. However, lawsuits are costly and tedious. Our response to this suit is estimated to cost us approximately $30,000. John Grinder’s expenses will likely be about $35,000 to $50,000. Others who may be served with this same suit in the future may wish to join our suit and share expenses. Our lawyers are doing work that should ultimately save the rest of the NLP Community a lot of hassle and expense.

We do not hold any ill will toward Richard Bandler, but we will defend ourselves vigorously against this suit which we believe has no basis, and which affects the entire NLP Community and the public we serve.


Relevant Information:

An examination of the record indicates that Richard Bandler is asserting that he has a trademark on NLP, when in fact he has none.

1. A trademark and service mark search conducted on February 10, 1997 did not identify any pending trademark applications or trademark registrations in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) which suggest exclusive rights vested in an entity of any kind either for the term NLP, or for Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

2. In the partnership agreement of the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (November 1, 1979) Article II, "Purposes of the Business," NLP is twice described as a "field."

The name of a field, such as biology or optics, is a generic term and cannot be trademarked.

3. In an agreement between Richard Bandler and John Grinder dated October 27, 1981, there is also reference to "the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming" and "that field of study."

4. There is a service mark on the Seal of the Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Reg. No. 1,248,697; August 16, 1983) used for "Association Services." It specifically states that "no claim is made to the exclusive right to use the words ‘The Society of Neuro-Linguistic Programming Not Ltd. Division of Training and Research,’ apart from the mark as shown." (The "mark as shown" is the sphere with NLP in the center, not the octagon with flags that Bandler is currently using.) This means that in 1983 the PTO considered those words to be descriptive and therefore not subject to exclusive appropriation under the trademark law.

5. The society service mark has been used by Richard Bandler and his associates in at least four altered forms (by changing the words around the outside or deleting them altogether) and none of these has ever used "SM" or ® to indicate that the service mark is registered.

6. In a lawsuit brought by Richard Bandler in 1987, Bandler’s attorneys responded to defendants "Interrogatory No. 7: State fully and in detail why you do not use trade mark or service mark designations in your advertisements or articles, for the term ‘NLP’ or ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming.’" Bandler’s response was "There are none."

7. A trademark or service mark can only be registered if the mark is exclusively used by one business to identify its product. The terms "NLP" and "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" have been used as descriptive terms by hundreds of NLP institutes over the past sixteen years, and service mark applications for several NLP institutes have been required by the PTO to disclaim these terms. For example, "The Timbuktu Institute of NLP" can be service-marked, but none of the individual words can be service-marked.

8. On August 26, 1996 the PTO explicitly determined that Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a generic term. (Generic terms cannot be trademarked.)


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