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Geographical center trademark case continues

By Staff | Feb 17, 2017

The Rugby Chamber of Commerce intends to put the recent question of who owns trademark rights to the Geographical Center of North America to rest.

“We are pursuing this, we are working on this,” said Chamber Consultant and former Executive Director Shelley Block.

In October 2016, Rugby residents and the Rugby City Council learned that the Rugby Chamber of Commerce’s registration of the geographical center trademark had inadvertently been allowed to lapse in 2009. Hanson’s Bar in Robinson a town of about 40 people in Kidder County learned of the lapse and filed its own application to register the trademark with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in July 2015 and was granted a supplemental registration on Aug. 30, 2016.

In December 2016, the Chamber filed a new application to regain its registration of the geographical center trademark. The Chamber also contacted the owner of Hanson’s Bar, requesting they cease all use of the mark and surrender their federal registration.

The Chamber has also been working on the case with Bill Weimer, a Rugby native and partner in the intellectual property group of the Faegre Baker Daniels law firm.

Weimer said trademark rights are based on use, not registration. Through the Chamber’s long use, the mark had “acquired distinctiveness” the public was able to associate the mark with the Chamber and the Chamber’s mark was placed on a principal register. When granting Hanson’s Bar its registration, the USPTO placed it on a supplemental register rather than the principal because Hanson’s Bar did not show its use caused the mark to have acquired distinctiveness.

The Chamber is awaiting a response from the USPTO on the new application. Weimer said that, if necessary, the Chamber would petition to cancel Hanson’s Bar’s registration.

Weimer said that while the Chamber would prefer to avoid it, the Chamber could potentially also file a lawsuit against Hanson’s Bar for infringing on the Chamber’s common law trademark rights. The continued use of the mark, even after the registration lapsed in 2009, and the ability of the public to associate the Geographical Center of North America with Rugby created common law rights for the Chamber.

“It should come down to more than a century of U.S. trademark law,” Weimer said.

The Chamber’s decades-long claim on the mark is grounded in a January 1931 U.S. Geological Survey publication. The publication stated that the geographical center or a point on where the area’s surface would balance if placed on a “plane of uniform thickness” was in Pierce County. A rock monument was constructed in 1932.

The Chamber has used the mark to identify its services on behalf of the city of Rugby’s business community.

Other attempts have been made to determine where North America’s geographical center is through a variety of methods.

One example earlier this year added a new player to the geographical center matter. Using azimuthal equidistant map projections and determining final latitude and longitude, University at Buffalo (a campus of the State University of New York) Geography professor Peter Rogerson determined the geographical center to be in the town of Center, in Oliver County.

Center Mayor Harold Wilkens said the town is not taking action on the findings until they can be “verified.”

Weimer said regardless of what method might be the most scientifically sound, “by long ago staking its right to the mark based on the 1931 study” the Chamber “has rights in the trademark that can’t be overcome by alternative calculations.”

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