Oprah's "Aha Moment"

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 20 2009 4:01 PM

Oprah's "Aha Moment"

Word leaked on Thursday that Oprah Winfrey will end her long-running talk show come Sept. 9, 2011. She'll make an official announcement on-air Friday, commencing—we can only assume—20 long months of self-aggrandizing recaps and tributes. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has been the nation's highest-rated talk show for more than 20 years, and an estimated 7 million viewers tune in on a daily basis. But the show commanded an audience nearly twice that size during its late-'90s peak. And though there's already speculation that Winfrey will start a new show on her own network, basic cable autonomy isn't the same as ubiquitous network syndication. Perhaps she's bowing out because she knows her powers are on the wane.

If we are indeed nearing the end of the Oprah era, a smaller news item from last week should have been a tipoff. Winfrey's production company, Harpo, reached a settlement with Mutual of Omaha over the rights to the phrase "aha moment." Since neither side has commented on the case, it's unclear exactly what was settled. But "settled" seems like Oprah PR-speak for "lost." Dictionary.com defines an "aha moment" as "a sudden understanding, recognition, or resolution." "Aha moment" and its sister phrase "eureka moment" have been around for years , which only demonstrates how words and phrases long and commonly used aren't necessarily safe from trademark protection.

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As techdirt reports, Mutual of Omaha applied for the trademark in 2008 to support a marketing campaign dubbing the insurance company the "official sponsor of the aha moment." But Oprah, who'd used the term on her show, also claimed rights. The snag is that Harpo Productions didn't make a legal claim until this past June, a year after Mutual of Omaha had launched its campaign and long after a Florida clothier made a claim of its own. In the wake of the settlement, Mutual of Omaha still rather definitively runs the Web site AhaMoment.com , which sells insurance through a high-concept gathering of people's eureka testimonies. None, as yet, feature or credit Oprah. Her "aha moments," it seems, are numbered.

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Eric Hynes is a New York-based journalist and film critic.

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