For years I’ve been kvetching here about the phenomenon of municipal overreach on intellectual property claims, whether it’s catchphrases with no particular geographic association; transit line symbols that do convey meaning but when licensed don’t convey meaningful claims of endorsement or affiliation; skyline features that belong to no one; or municipal seals that the Lanham Act simply says ain’t trademarks.
So when I saw this headline — “Can a town’s name be a trademark?” — I got ready to roll up my sleeves again. But… no. This is even more interesting:
Town Board members do not expect to use not-for-profit radio station WIOF as background filler between public access television programs until a trademark dispute is settled that has commercial station WDST claiming foul over use of the town’s name.
Supervisor Jeremy Wilber during a telephone interview Wednesday said the use of “Woodstock 104” by WIOF is being protested by WDST as an infringement on the “Radio Woodstock” and “Woodstock Radio” identifiers. . . .
WDST General Manager Richard Fusco on Friday said station officials have no objections to use of WIOF for the public access channel but believe use of “Woodstock 104” will confuse listeners.
“We’re are not looking in any way, shape or form not have her do it or in any way interfere with what (WIOF Chief Executive Officer Randi Steele) is doing, or in any way want to squelch her project,” he said. “We just saying do whatever you want to do, just don’t infringe on our trademark.”
Information provided by WDST shows the station trademarked [sic] the phrases “Radio Woodstock” in 1994 and “Woodstock Radio” in 2002.
Fusco said station officials are hopeful that a court case can be avoided and said there are many options for WIOF to identify itself with Woodstock without use of the town’s name in a tag line or slogan.
“She is perfectly able to say ‘this is hippie radio’ or ‘tie dyed radio’ or what ever name she wants to call it ‘from Woodstock, New York,’” he said. “The geographic location is what she is legally able to use. But associating it as the name of the entity…is an infringement on the trademark.”
Steele contends WDST management is being predatory in efforts to have the phrase discontinued.
“When we submitted the paperwork to the state that was in order to call our radio division ‘Woodstock 104,’” she said.
“You cannot trademark the name of the town,” Steele said. “That’s restraint of trade.”
What we have here is a veritable trademark law festival! Unlike the Woodstock one, however, this is neither Aquarian, three days long (enough of that!), nor muddy. But for sure, it’s at least as much fun, and no penicillin will be required afterwards.