League, business battle over use of popular logo
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Variations on the phrase are nearly everywhere – from the back of cars to storefront windows.
There’s The Brewery at Lake Tahoe’s “Drink Tahoe Brew,” Blue Turtle Seduction’s “Keep Tahoe Seductive,” Tahoe Hemp Company’s “Keep Tahoe Green,” and seemingly countless others.
But one variation on The League to Save Lake Tahoe’s famous “Keep Tahoe Blue” logo recently attracted the attention of the conservation group’s lawyers.
On July 16, Rochelle Alpert, an attorney representing the League, sent a letter to Chris Minnes, the owner of Keep Tahoe Fit, contending the South Shore personal trainer’s logo infringed on the League’s registered trademark.
Keep Tahoe Fit’s initial logo closely resembled the League’s, which includes a light blue stamp of Lake Tahoe’s shape to the left of white, uppercase, Helvetica letters reading “Keep Tahoe Blue” on a blue background. Minnes replaced the word “blue” with “fit” in the first iteration of the Keep Tahoe Fit logo, spurring the objection from the League.
“Please understand that the League considers its long-used and well-known marks as valuable intellectual property,” Alpert said in the letter. “It has successfully enforced its rights against other infringers and, if given no other choice, is prepared to avail itself of available remedies to protect against your intentional infringement and dilution of its trademark rights.”
Minnes said he used the variation of the League’s logo because it was recognizable, people liked it and the image worked well with the business he was trying to promote.
He called League’s pressure to stop using the modified logo an “attack” on the local community.
“Frankly I was a bit flattered that our little business caught their attention,” Minnes said in a Tuesday statement. “But I was also surprised and upset that an organization whose stated mission is protection and conservation advocacy for Lake Tahoe would send their San Francisco-based lawyers after me; it just seems like those resources would be better spent protecting the lake, not attacking its local business.”
The conservation group has made “countless” attempts to resolve the issue amicably, said spokeswoman Amanda Royal in an e-mail. The for-profit use of the modified mark is troubling to the League, who has distributed nearly 1 million stickers bearing the logo, Royal said.
“We are particularly concerned about commercial uses because of how they mislead the public and potentially harm the integrity of our long-established brand,” Royal said. “The public could think that we are associated with this commercial enterprise in some way.”
Minnes contends that the Keep Tahoe Fit logo would only be a violation of trademark law if the trademark was used to promote a similar business.
“For this reason Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets are permissible, as they are entirely different products and therefore would not be confusing for the consumer,” Minnes said.
In March 2006, the Unites States Patent and Trademark Office refused to register a logo similar to “Keep Tahoe Blue” displaying the words “Keep Tahoe Local,” for a Truckee clothing business.
The office found enough similarities between the logos, as well as the conservation group and clothing company, to dismiss the “Keep Tahoe Local” trademark application.
“Because of the similarity of the marks and the related nature of the goods/ services at issue, confusion is likely in the mind of the public, and registration is accordingly refused,” according to a letter describing the office’s action.
The website, http://www.keep
tahoelocal.com, is still online, but does not allow people to purchase products.
Owner Casey Eberhardt said he is working with a lawyer to get “Keep Tahoe Local” registered.
The original trademark application was refused because the company did not respond to the patent office’s letter in time, Eberhardt said. The letter required a response within six months.
U.S. intellectual property law protects noncommercial use of trademarks and the League has entered into contracts with nonprofit groups to allow the use of modified League logos in the past.
Trademark issues with the “Keep Tahoe Blue” logo arise “occasionally” and the League has been successful in informally resolving the matters, Royal said in an e-mail.
The League chose to take action against Minnes’ use of the oft-modified logo because Keep Tahoe Fit’s entire brand is based on the League’s trademark, Royal said.
“We are not aware of any other entity currently attempting to do business that is using our trademark as their sole business name and brand,” Royal said.
Minnes has replaced the lake stamp on the Keep Tahoe Fit logo with the light blue profile of a female runner in an effort to get the League to “leave him alone,” even though he considered the necessity of the move “a bit of a stretch.”
“I think, with the replacement by the running girl, there should be no reason they should have a problem with me,” Minnes said Thursday.
But it’s unclear the change will solve the problem.
“We only learned of his recent change on August 31, but we remain concerned that his new logo trades off our long-established, iconic logo and that it remains a copy of the sticker that has long identified the League,” Royal wrote in an e-mail.
“It’s in the best interest of all parties to create original brands, and that is all that we ask of Mr. Minnes,” Royal added.
Minnes, who previously ran the 968 Park Hotel, emphasized that he is not anti-environment, but questioned the League’s use of funds on the matter.
“I think that the League’s 4,000 members would be disappointed to hear how their League’s resources are being used. I am, too,” Minnes said.
Alpert’s services were donated to the League, Royal countered.
“With Rochelle’s help, we ensure that the bulk of member donations are used to pursue our mission, including the research and advocacy that is so critical to environmental protection at Tahoe,” Royal said.
“Protecting the Keep Tahoe Blue trademark is important to the League and ultimately benefits everyone who cares about Lake Tahoe,” Royal added. “‘Keep Tahoe Blue’ is not only a call for environmental protection, it serves as a critical and major marketing tool for the beauty of the Lake Tahoe Basin. ‘Keep Tahoe Blue’ is the most significant advertising that anyone does on behalf of the Lake Tahoe Basin.”