Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Highlands Ranch: Trademark or Town!

Today we filed a cancellation action with the United States Patent and Trademark Office concerning the mark "HIGHLANDS RANCH" registered by Shea Homes.

Our client, Brian Petrelli, is a realtor who for four years has listed homes on his website, www.myhighlandsranch.com. Never once did Shea Homes, the master developer of the community of about 90,000 complain that the domain was violating its mark. Further, all of the signs into the community, the name on the post office and the signs in all the parks fail to provide any indication that the phrase "Highlands Ranch" is a trademark.

Some intriguing questions: Can a master developer own the name of a town it was instrumental in creating? (Actually, Highlands Ranch isn't a town but I would venture to say between 70-90% of residents in the Denver Metro area would identify it as such.) Is the name of a community which has been in wide use as such for over 25 years, a generic geographic descriptor incapable of acquiring secondary meaning and as such be held as a Trademark? Can a non-governmental entity prevent businesses and organizations operating within a community from indicating their association with a community?

We believe these are especially important questions considering the popularity in the last decade or so of planned unincorporated communities.

You are invited to follow this important saga as it will be chronicled in this Blog and at our client's website, www.FreeTheRanch.com. And please feel free to leave comments here or on Brian's site. We would love to hear the public's take on this.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My Space Sued In Connection with Sexual Assault

Well, given all of the press about sexual predators and all of the other concerns surrounding Myspace.com, you knew it would be inevitable. A 14 year old girl from Austin Texas has filed suit against Myspace.com seeking a reported 30 million dollars alledging that she was sexually mollested by a fellow Myspace user who misrepresented himself as a highschool football player in order to gain the girl's trust. The suit claims that Myspace.com did not take sufficient measures to protect underage users to quote the qirsls attorney "absolutely no meaningful protections or security measures to protect underage users") - a claim that Myspace.com refutes.

The suit brings up some very interesting issues concerning on-line activities. One one side is the argument that internet users and parents of minor childern should take sole responsibility for their on-line actions. On the other side is the argument that while there is a shared sense of responsibility between user and provider of things such as profiles, chat groups and the like. Should service providers in general have a get out of jail free card merely because they have choosen to stick their heads in the sand about the kinds of activities that occur on their networks ?

It is an interesting debate that probablly will only intensify over time involving issues of free speach and communication as well as the protection of minors. Cases have often ruled that internet service providers and hosts are generally not liable for postings on their networks that they did not have knowedge of. Additionally, it was recently held that a blog operator could not be sued for slander or liable due to comments posted by an anonymous visitor to the individuals blog. Often times, as with trademark infringment and copyright infringment, a service provider must first have knowedge of the infringment and then fail to take any action to prevent further infringing activities from taking place. I think the wild card in the case is the fact that it involves a minor - courts could probablly go either way.

I guess we will have to wait and see, but of course the case could always settle and we will have to wait for another case to arise to get some clarity on the law int his area.