The loopy lawsuit

The Loopy Lawsuit

This is a record of a curious historical incident.

[The information below was last updated in 1999.]

The Lawsuit Was Thrown Out of Court!

On May 29, 1998, the judge in Chicago threw out George Scherr's lawsuit, ruling that Illinois courts have no jurisdiction on the matter. (A report about the dismissal appeared in the June 11, 1998 issue of Nature.) George then petitioned the court to reverse that decision. The court dismissed George's petition. On July 10, 1998, George filed papers to appeal the dismissal, and thereafter filed more and more paper (including a second appeal). In March, 1999, the appeals court affirmed that the case has been dismissed.

* * * * * * Many, many, many thanks to all of you who contributed to the Strategic AIR Defense Fund -- and to the valiant attorneys at Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer in Boston, who donated enormous amounts of time and effort to dealing with the tangled, almost-perpetually-growing heaps of George-generated legalistic documents. Many thanks, too, to the noble attorneys at Holleb & Coff in Chicago, who donated considerable amounts of their services.

==> On a second front, George continued to wage his strange campaign to have the US Patent and Trademark Office give him ownership of the phrase"Ig Nobel Prize." The Trademark Office had already rejected George's claim, but George filed several appeals. Eventually these appeals, too, were rejected.

* * * In case you are not familiar with George Scherr's vendetta against the Annals of Improbable Research -- and if you have a stomach for the macabre -- then get yourself a cup of coffee, heave a sigh, and read the following section...


Someone Doesn't Like Us

[The information in this section was last updated in early May, 1998.]

We are being sued.

A man named George Scherr has filed a lawsuit in federal court against our editor, Marc Abrahams, and against AIR. George wants us to (a) stop publishing AIR and (b) pay him $8.1 million. George's lawsuit contains twenty (20) pages of accusations, including conspiracy, fraud, trademark infringement, and (our favorite!) racketeering.

George is acting as his own lawyer. Several years ago, George told Marc that he (George) had taken legal action against most of the people with whom he had ever had business relationships, including one of his children. George filed the suit in August, 1997.

In December, George filed several hundred pages of additional documents with the court, detailing a variety of new charges against Marc, and upping the total amount of money George is demanding (his original demand was $4.2 million.)

In January, George added another charge: perjury. That same month, he also sent a letter to Marc's father. The letter begins "Dear Abrahams," and goes on to ask Marc's father to send George any information that could be used against Marc. The letter ends by offering to subpoena Marc's father. George also charges that, by sometimes writing humor articles under pen names, Marc has committed fraud and "massive perversion."

Every few weeks, George files additional thick documents with the court, adding further charges and accusations. George has tried to obtain access to: (a) Marc's personal bank records; and (b) the email address (and, somehow, the telephone number and mailing address!) of every mini-AIR subscriber.

Fortunately, the court has ruled that George has no right to any of this information. George is the current publisher of The Journal of Irreproducible Results, having obtained ownership of that publication in 1994 -- some months after Marc resigned as its editor. George was also publisher of the Journal from 1964-1989; in 1989 he sold the Journal to a different publisher, against whom he then took legal action.

[SOME BACKGROUND for those who are interested: The Journal of Irreproducible Results was founded in 1955 by Alex Kohn and Harry Lipkin. In 1964, George got involved, becoming the Journal's publisher, a relationship that apparently was inharmonious from the start (please do not ask Marc for details, as he knows them only second hand from Alex and Harry). Many years later, Alex and Marc co-founded the Annals of Improbable Research, with Harry as a founding editorial board member. The entire editorial staff (1955-94) of the Journal moved to the Annals, as did most of the editorial board.]

George claims that the name "Annals of Improbable Research" is deceptively similar to "Journal of Irreproducible Results" and that it infringes the trademark of the "Journal." He also claims that Marc conspired to (a) ruin the Journal while he was its editor and then later (b) pretend that the Annals is really the Journal. George also claims that the idea of having a limerick contest in the July 1995 (that's nineteen ninety-FIVE) issue of mini-AIR was copied from a 1996 (that's nineteen ninety-SIX) issue of George's magazine.

George also has a second, equally bizarre line of attack. He is petitioning the US Patent and Trademark Office, demanding ownership of the phrase "Ig Nobel Prize." George had previously claimed that neither Marc nor the Annals was "ever associated with the Ig Nobel Prize." [See the Jan 8, 1996, issue of "The Scientist" for George's full letter on this, and the January 22 and March 4 (also see here) issues for responses from Marc and from two Nobel Laureates who participated in various Ig ceremonies.] Those of you who have attended the many Ig Ceremonies may have memories of Marc (and friends) creating the Ig ceremony in 1991, and of Marc serving as emcee every year.

* * *

Absurd as the lawsuit is, we have no choice other than to fight it -- and fighting it IS expensive. While George is acting as his own lawyer, we believe the old saying that anyone who does that has a fool for a client. Therefore, we have retained an excellent law firm, Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer. Brown, Rudnick is very generously donating most of its services. But this lawsuit is running up many thousands of dollars in additional legal costs (not yet on the Bill Clinton/Paula Jones million dollar level, but possibly enough to destroy earth's vital supply of AIR). Therefore, we proudly yet sheepishly announce:

* The Strategic AIR Defense Fund *

The Strategic AIR Defense Fund will be used to help defray these legal costs. Honorary co-chairs are Nobel Laureates Dudley Herschbach, William Lipscomb, and Richard Roberts.

If you would like to help us fight this improbable lawsuit (and receive a nifty certificate of thanks!), please send donations (whatever you can contribute -- $25, $50, or $100, will help) to the following address:

Strategic AIR Defense Fund c/o Robert Dushman Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer One Financial Center Boston, MA 02111

If you have questions, please get in touch with Marc.

The October 2 issue of Nature has a news article about this matter. So do: - the October 2 issue of the London Daily Telegraph - the October 8 issue of The Wall Street Journal - the October 18 issue of New Scientist - the December 29 issue of Wired News - the January 12 The Boston Globe - the January 19 issue of The Scientist. - and the January 22 issue of Die Zeit.

You can also read verbatim passages of "The Best of George" in every issue of mini-AIR beginning with the November 1997 issue.

As Dave Barry would say: we are not making this up.