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Judge: Outdated caselaw needs revised to handle Internet issues

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A dissenting judge in an unfair competition case involving the near simultaneous registrations of the same Internet domain name urged the Indiana Legislature and Supreme Court to “usher Indiana into the technological realities of the 21st Century.”

Judge Patricia Riley dissented from her colleagues Judge Melissa May and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik in Serenity Springs, Inc. and Laura Ostergren v. The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, by and through its Board of Managers, 46A04-1309-MI-470, a case that’s before the appeals court for the second time in a little more than a year.

The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau sued area hotel-resort Serenity Springs after the resort registered the domain name “visitmichigancitylaporte.com” just hours of the visitors bureau announced at a public meeting the phrase “Visit Michigan City LaPorte” was selected as the branding identifier for the area. Because Serenity Springs registered that domain name first – and used it to direct traffic to its website – the visitors bureau was unable to acquire it.

In April 2013, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s holding that permanently enjoined Serenity from using the designation or domain name and ordered the resort to transfer the domain to the bureau. But the trial court hadn’t considered all of the claims before it when it issued that ruling last year, so on remand, the trial court once again ruled in favor of the visitors bureau on its claim of unfair competition and trade name infringement.

The majority, citing Hartzler v. Goshen Churn Ladder Co., 55 Ind. App. 455, 104 N.E. 34 (1914), reversed and ruled in favor of the resort.

“We acknowledge authority from other jurisdictions suggests a ‘single use’ or an ‘initial use’ is sufficient (on an unfair competition claim),” Judge Melissa May wrote. “But even that standard is not met in the case before us; we have only the Bureau’s statement of its intention to commence using that phrase. Serenity Springs’ actions therefore did not amount to unfair competition, and it was error for the trial court to so hold.”

“Visit Michigan City LaPorte,” was not a protectable trade name and Serenity Springs’ use of it was not unfair competition, the majority held.

Judge Patricia Riley, in her dissent, argued that the bureau established a bona fide initial use of the phrase by paying a marketing firm and announcing the results in a televised meeting. But the majority declined to hold paying for a study and announcing its results amounts to even a single or initial “use in trade.”

Riley described Hartzler as “still good law,” but its principles are “difficult to apply to an era where messages can be sent at the speed of light and goods can be purchased by the push of a button.” She noted she could not find a case anywhere that has dealt with the nearly simultaneous registrations of domain names in the context of common law unfair competition, and that Indiana caselaw is extremely sparse with respect to trademarks and trade names.   

“In light of Indiana’s sparse and outdated case law, I would urge our Legislature and supreme court, if the opportunity arises, to look beyond the man and cart method promoted by Hartzler and approved by an out-of-touch majority, and instead usher Indiana into the technological realities of the 21st Century by formulating tools appropriate to handle the complexities of the internet’s realm,” she wrote.

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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