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Court reverses hotel’s cybersquatting conviction

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A dispute over who could use the designation “Visit Michigan City LaPorte” led to a legal battle between LaPorte County’s visitors bureau and an area hotel-resort, with the trial court ruling in favor of the visitors bureau. But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Monday, ruling the bureau didn’t prove it held a valid and protectable trademark.

An employee from Serenity Springs attended a public meeting at which the LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that the phrase “Visit Michigan City LaPorte” had been chosen as the branding identifier for the area. Immediately after the meeting, Serenity registered the domain name “visitmichigancitylaporte.com” and redirected traffic from that site to its hotel website. That same day, the bureau attempted to register the same domain name, but discovered it had been purchased and was used by Serenity.

The visitors bureau sought to prevent Serenity from using the domain and slogan, and filed an application with the Indiana Secretary of State to register the slogan and logo as a trademark. It claimed it first used the words in commerce Sept. 9, 2009, the same day Serenity registered the website. When Serenity wouldn’t voluntarily relinquish the domain name, the visitors bureau sued, alleging trademark infringement, cybersquatting and unfair competition.

The trial court ruled in favor of the visitors bureau, permanently enjoined Serenity from using the designation or domain name, and ordered Serenity to transfer the domain to the bureau.

In Serenity Springs, et al. v. The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 46A03-1205-MI-214, the Court of Appeals reversed because it found the “Visit Michigan City LaPorte” slogan is primarily geographically descriptive and not subject to protection as a trademark. In order to be protectable, the slogan must have acquired secondary meaning, but it did not. The judges rejected the visitors bureau’s claim that its registration with the SOS is sufficient proof of distinctiveness or secondary meaning.

“Secondary meaning is acquired through actual use of a mark, and there is simply no evidence in the record supporting a conclusion that the mark became associated with the Bureau in the minds of consumers on September 9, 2009 in the hours prior to Serenity’s registration of the domain name,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote.

The COA reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and enter judgment in favor of Serenity on the trademark infringement and cybersquatting claims. But the trial court did not rule on other claims the bureau asserted, including common-law unfair competition. The judges ordered the trial court consider the bureau’s other claims and limit its consideration to the claims and evidence already presented by the bureau.  

 

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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