Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BPAL: Snake Oil or Snake In The Grass?

One of the reasons I decided to do a blog dedicated to bitching instead of my other love, indie makeup, is that there are tons who do this so much better.  I suck at descriptions, and I'm too damned lazy to take pictures.
One subject I would avoid would be scented stuff. Scents, to me are a personal thing. It's all a matter of body chemistry. What smells great on someone stinks on another. I've got the kind of chemistry that very few scents work with, so I'm sure a review of "smells like shit on me, but you should try it!" wouldn't be appreciated by a seller. But I read reviews, and sometimes will try stuff based on that.
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, or BPAL, is a perfume company that has a huge cult like following. It's impossible for anyone who reads blogs about indie products not to have come across some BPAL reviews. So I've tried several of their stock and limited edition fragrances. And no matter what fragrance I try, they all smell the same on me. Like the morning after a night of drunken debauchery. Where you jump out of bed, holding your head, throw open the window, wake up the lump next to you and tell them to get the hell out and swear off alcohol forever. Anything to make it go away.
So I've left BPAL to those who love it. Until now.
Someone who I've been a customer of, who has a small indie bath and body shop, who I LIKE (and that list is small) sells a product that she calls Snake Oil. She's not the only person in the world that sells a product that they call snake oil, but for some reason BPAL has decided to give her a ration of shit about it. Apparently, BPAL sells something they call Snake Oil, which is not the same product as the other, for more than twice the price. And they're claiming that she, who has sold her product longer, is infringing on a name that BPAL has trademarked.
WTF?! The term "snake oil" has been around for hundreds of years, long before all of us were a twinkle in our daddy's eye. We use the term "snake oil" to describe anything from that used in the Craft to anything sold by infomercial. What moron in a trademark office would allow anyone exclusive use of an everyday term?!
And why would anyone whose company has several times more volume in sales want to bother a small indie perfume maker during the busiest time of the year? Is business so slow at BPAL that they have enough spare time to act like shitweasels?! Here's a few suggestions for being more productive with their time at BPAL:

Do something about that hot mess gawdawful website. Hire someone with opposable thumbs that can create something customers can navigate.

Hire more people to spend more time filling orders. You may actually have more business if customers can get their products in the same lifetime that they ordered it.

Put more effort into your quality/batch control. It sucks to reorder something because we loved in in an imp only to find out the full size is nothing like it.

For gawdsakes, blend. Even I, who can't describe perfume, can smell when it's not blended properly.
Quit calling your stuff unique when anyone who knows perfumes knows you use stock scents.

If you're going to harass one person about using a common phrase you now think you own, then do the same with everybody else. It's a long list, get busy.

Congratulate yourself. You've made the Cranky CatWrangler's AssClown List. Not distinguished enough to be AssClown Of The Year, but you're definitely a runner up.


  1. I agree with you, the term 'snake oil' has been around for a long time. I can't believe they think they have all rights to it. I'm not up with what is going on or who they are accusing of infringement, but I'd find it had for them to have much of a claim. And I agree, I have such a hard time with their site! I have browsed it many times, but get too confused, so I've never ordered anything from them.

  2. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab does in fact have a right to the term "Snake Oil" as applied to perfumes, soaps, and other scented products, because they copyrighted that term for those uses. Infringing on that copyright by making copycat products is theft of intellectual property and a violation of Federal copyright law.

    As for your other points, lessee:

    The website is quite navigable--that's what the menu bar on the left is for.

    Current turn-around-time or TAT is less than four weeks right now, owing to the season and a number of other things, all of which BPAL has been up front about. Plus, people wait longer for lower-quality products.

    Imps can smell different than bottles because the oil in imps ages faster.

    Accusing Black Phoenix of using stock oils is laughable. Can you say grasping at straws? I know you can do that, you've just demonstrated that with this post.

    And no, BPAL isn't going after anyone who uses the phrase in conversation or in writing. What they MUST do, to keep their copyright, is to let others know when they're infringing on it.

    And I have no idea why I bothered to reply to baseless accusations from some mouth-breathing idiot who thinks cat urine is perfume, so I'll go now.

  3. ...And here comes the BPAL glittermob.

  4. oooooh! Jammies is not a happy camper! Hopefully I'll never meet this person in real life.

  5. Jammies - actually, that would not be a copyright, it would be a trademark. Copyright refers to media; names get trademarked. Furthermore, if the other company has been manufacturing their "snake oil" for longer, BPAL's trademark will not hold up in court as you cannot trademark something that another company has already been using.
    Cheers, and next time do your research.

  6. Uh, not trying to glittermob or anything, but I am kinda confused -- how can you say that they're using stock scents, and yet they don't blend properly?

  7. This would be like Macintosh trademarking the word or picture "Apple" then going after supermarkets all over the world and anybody who has so much as an apple somewhere in their logo.

    "Snake Oil" has such a history and is a part of colloquial english language, that's so incredibly old, it's absurd that someone could want to trademark a name, that quite frankly, they did not come up with themselves. If they had given it a twist and changed the spelling of it, okay, but not in this instance.

    Are they also trademarking all other names of their fragrances? If not, why not?

    I have never ordered from BPAL so I'm not here to speak about the quality of their products. I'm here because it's absurd to go after a small business who was using the phrase as a product name long before, and it's not even a name of a fragrance, but of a multi purpose product. Nobody would get confused.

    Shame on BPAL for this move.

  8. @ Ice, not all of their scents are stock, but not all of them are blended with natural essential oils either, such as cotton candy and popcorn buttered scents. I have a friend who blends perfumes and he recognized some of the stock scents from his supplier as the same as some of the stuff they sell. As far as blending, what I've purchased was not blended well, and I've asked those who are in the business and they've agreed.
    I appreciate that you made a comment without turning it into a personal attack.

  9. I did a search for 'Snake Oil' on the USPTO site and came up with a trademark for 'Snake Oil' for the company in question:


    is the link. If that doesn't work, it's registration number: 3645442

    It was published for opposition but I guess no one opposed it.

  10. @ Anne-Marie I saw that as well. I still find it interesting that someone can claim rights to a common phrase.
    The company in question has rights to that trademark for perfume oils and soap, the company they're harassing has a product that is an all purpose body spray. Not the same product.
    Thanks for your comment. BTW, I've always liked Brambleberry.

  11. I can say I've bought a bottle of that overly priced perfume based on an imp I got and was very disappointed it smelled different. If it ages differently that should be stated somewhere. "Scents in imps WILL be different than the $15 you just wasted on a bottle..."