North Country takes umbrage at Mt. Washington Resort's owners trademark try



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Up north, people live in the shadows of the White Mountains, biggest among which is Mount Washington. The mountain defines the landscape and culture, so much so that for over a hundred years businesses and organizations have used that name broadly and freely.The name adorns well-known things, like the auto road, cog railway, a mountaintop observatory and scores of other lesser-known entities like a Masonic lodge, a home-brew supply shop, mobile home park and a hockey association.But now the owner of the most prominent and powerful user of that name - the Omni Mount Washington Hotel and Resort - is engaged in a contentious king-of-the-mountain legal battle over trademarking the words, "Mount Washington," and apparently bullying a few long-standing North Country businesses into forfeiting their name or meeting the real estate giant in court.At least one business, Mount Washington Valley Accommodations and Conference Center at Attitash Ski Resort in Bartlett, isn't backing down. It has been in U.S. Patent and Trademark Court for nearly two years with CNL Financial Group, a Florida-based real estate investment trust whose CNL Lifestyle Properties owns the Omni Mt. Washington Resort.Two other businesses - Mount Washington B&B and Mt. Washington Valley Inn - have reportedly received letters, but are not talking publicly about it. They are both small businesses and likely don't have the deep pockets needed to defend themselves in a federal courtroom.‘They want our name′While New Hampshire corporations are required to file their name with the secretary of state's office, that filing offers few protections and remedies to settle disputes. The best protection is at the federal level, at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.Few state corporations file federal trademarks, but in 1999, Mount Washington Valley Accommodations and Conference Center did just that.In 2008, two years after a local ownership group sold the Mt. Washington Resort, the new owners attempted to secure the names "Mount Washington" and "Bretton Woods," the physical location of the resort.CNL's application was denied because of the similarity of the Attitash-affiliated company.When Attitash Mountain Service Company President Joe Berry heard from CNL about the issue, he said he was prepared to give permission to register their name, but he quickly learned it wanted more than that - it wanted him to discontinue the use of Mount Washington Valley Accommodations and Conference Center."They want our name, which is unbelievable," Berry said.According to Gary Lambert, a Nashua attorney and state senator-elect who specializes in trademark law, said a trademark battle "often comes down to how much money you have," because many people can't bear the expense of a protracted legal battle.He said he often advises small-business clients to "work it out," adding that "the quick fix is to change the name and move on. It may not be good for business in the short term, but it'll save a lot of money."But that's not Berry's intention up in Bartlett.His attorney, Terry Tucker of Manchester, wrote in court filings that the Mount Washington Valley Accommodations and Conference Center and Omni Mount Washington Resort "are so different in sound and appearance and meaning that there is no likelihood of confusion."In addition, she argued, the services and channels of trade are different and the customers of each company are "highly sophisticated."She also pointed out that her client's business is located in a region known as the Mount Washington Valley.CNL's attorney Washington, D.C.-based Stephen Trattner, is asking that Mount Washington Valley Accommodations and Conference Center's trademark be canceled because of the Omni Mount Washington's long history.The hotel's "goods and services," he wrote, "are famous and were (established) long before the date of registration" of the Bartlett ski area. Trattner also wrote that the similar names could cause confusion and "dilution of the petitioner's" name.Up until now, the process has been bogged down by "discovery disputes," not the merits of the case, said Tucker, who added that "most cases are settled within one year."Last year, CNL overcame two objectors and quietly received a trademark for "Bretton Woods," a precinct within the town of Carroll.John Sylvester Jr., a former owner of the Mount Washington Hotel who still owns a parcel of land in Bretton Woods, filed an objection. In March 2009, his attorney - Terry Tucker, who also represents Attitash - wrote that Bretton Woods was a colonial grant, a specific geographic location, and linked to an historical event - the International Monetary Conference of 1944.She also noted that CNL owns just 6 percent of the Bretton Wood's total acreage. Sylvester's objection was dismissed.‘Makes no sense′Across the North Country, many small businesses use the words "Mount Washington" in their name, and while they are not being targeted and are in businesses that don't compete with the Mount Washington Hotel, they are equally upset and vocal."That mighty mountain isn't owned by anyone," said Jo Huot, who owns Mt. Washington Valley Windows in Jefferson.According to Don Merrill, who owns Mt. Washington Homebrew in Littleton, "it's a community mountain."All of this has left many in the region upset with the new owners of the Omni Mount Washington. Richard Hamilton, a longtime tourism executive who now heads up the Old Man of the Mountain memorial, called CNL's action "a stupid move" that "makes no sense at all."He said it causes an unnecessary rift during a time they should be working together.Wayne Presby, who also owns the Mount Washington Cog Railroad and previously owned the Mount Washington Resort, said there has been some confusion with the name over the years, but he believes CNL has created an unnecessary public relations problem because it's very unlikely that it will prevail.Mount Washington, he said, is "such a common name."Others, like Scot Henley, who heads the Mount Washington Observatory atop the mountain itself, is proceeding with concern and caution and consulting with attorneys."This is tricky one," he said. "It's a place that means so much to so many."

 

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