Positive thinker accused of filching Area psychotherapist says Anthony Robbins violating trademark

September 26, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

At 7 a.m. yesterday, Dean Kirschner stood outside the Baltimore Convention Center, surrounded by disciples of America's premier positive thinker, Anthony Robbins.

But, unlike the throng that gathered to hang on Robbins' every motivational word, Kirschner never listened in on the daylong program. Instead, he spent his time parading in front of the Convention Center, carrying a sign, reading: "I own Life Mastery: Purchase rights or don't use it."

Kirschner, a Cockeysville psychotherapist and counselor, says Robbins stole "Life Mastery," using the catchy moniker to promote his lectures and earn millions of dollars around the world. Kirschner has a registered trademark in the name, "Life Mastery Center," his mental health clinic.

"It's my name. I'm the one who helps people master their lives," said Kirschner, who opened his clinic in 1987. "If I'm going to tell patients to stand up for themselves, not be bullied by anybody, I have to do the same."

Officials at Robbins Research International, the San Diego-based company that runs the speaker's business empire, discounted Kirschner claims.

"As we have told [Kirschner] many, many times, his trademark is different from the one we are using," said Brad Hunsaker, director of legal services at Robbins International.

The dispute, which has been simmering for more than a year, has generated a number of letters between Kirschner and Robbins Research, but no legal action. Kirschner said his efforts to settle the dispute -- his initial offer was $500,000 -- were rebuffed, and that he can't afford to fight Robbins in court.

"A big guy can come in, take my property and dare me to sue," said Kirschner. "It doesn't seem right."

Ned Himmelrich, a Baltimore trademark lawyer who represented Kirschner in the trademark matter, said filing a lawsuit and pursuing it in court could cost Kirschner "tens of thousand of dollars."

"Unfortunately, getting a lawyer to try your case is an expense. When you're fighting someone you know has a lot of money, it's daunting," said Himmelrich, who left the case last year after Kirschner decided not to file a lawsuit.

Even if Kirschner decided to sue, the chances of being rewarded with money are uncertain. In trademark cases, infringers are most likely to be punished by being ordered to stop using the protected name or symbol, Himmelrich said.

To collect money, the person filing the suit must prove he was damaged -- in Kirschner's case, that he lost clients because of confusion with Robbins' lectures or other products. Proving those damages can be difficult and expensive.

Kirschner's dispute with Robbins dates to 1991, when Kirschner was host of a program on a local radio station. He says he tTC received a telephone call from someone representing Robbins, seeking to have the motivational speaker appear on the show.

Since then, Robbins' self-help empire has grown tremendously. Through his books, tapes and infomercials, he is estimated to earn $12 million a year. And his list of clients includes such names as tennis star Andre Agassi, Princess Diana and even President Clinton -- whom Robbins visited at Camp David.

After their brush on the radio program, Kirschner said the next time he noticed Robbins was last year, when Robbins and his wife were interviewed on a TV news program -- and referred to their lecturers as "Life Mastery."

Kirschner said he was surprised that Robbins was using a name he believed belonged to him, and contacted the speaker's company. Kirschner's lawyers and Robbins' lawyers traded letters in the last year, but the dispute goes on.

"If the name wasn't attractive," Kirschner said, "he wouldn't be using it."

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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