Cedar Springs gets its knickers in a twist

Red flannel long johns, a cosy and stylish way to keep the cold away from the delicates. But that is not all...the crimson pantaloon has recently been the subject of a trade mark dispute between organisers of the Red Flannel Festival and Cedar Springs City Council that has resulted in the city removing a long-legged red flannel logo from all city property. Katpat to Robert Boad for sharing this unusual trade mark tale.

Lumbering town Cedar Springs in Michigan became associated with red flannel 'drop seaters' during a dearth of the articles in New York in 1936 and since 1939 has celebrated its contribution to American winter essentials every October. Both the Festival and the City used a logo depicting the red rompers as part of its common heritage for over 72 years. However, when the city decided to use the logo on license plates and holders in late 2011 and cut funding for the event, the festival organisers threatened bringing proceedings for trade mark infringement. The issue surrounding the infringing license plates and holders using the logo was resolved relatively quickly and recognised as 'an honest mistake', with only one frame having been sold and the rest purchased by the Festival and donated to the Cedar Springs Public Library. But the wider issue of infringement of the trousered mark remained.

This Kat's duds airing in preparation for winter
Broadly, although the city offered the festival $4,000 for the use of the logo in February this year, the city's lawyer stopped the agreement on the ground that the city was not infringing the mark because it had used the logo since the inception of the festival in 1939. Skip six months later and rather than being a party to a prolonged legal battle, the logo is being removed from all city property such as City Hall letterheads, street signs and city vehicles with the consequence that the association with the roten hosen will be erased from the city's brand. No longer is Cedar Springs the 'Red Flannel Town' announced police chief Roger Parent, as reported by Michigan Live.

Yesterday a consultant to an organiser of the event published an update on the Red Flannel Festival website  stating that a town hall meeting, meant to be held yesterday (Friday 24th August), was 'cancelled to help settle the dispute';

"Now, for a myriad of reasons (namely a trademark issue) the two sides [members of the Festival Board and City] are at odds and the community is torn, and people are wondering about the future of the Festival and the identity of Cedar Springs. [If the future brings even harsher winters, even us cats will need red flannel long johns]

From the Festival Board’s standpoint, “We feel the trademark issue has been resolved and look forward to fostering a flexible, reasonable and accommodating environment which will fertilize the roots of this tradition by working with the businesses and community.” The City has something similar to say: “Aside from logos being removed from City property the community won’t see much different… we’ll remain supportive of the Festival Board and consider the Red Flannel Festival a part of our hometown pride”...

...We are not citizens of the Middle East trying to force a regime change toward democracy. We have a democracy and if citizens have an issue with how the elected officials have handled public money then there are vehicles to have questions addressed..."

Underlying principles of corporate branding and sponsorship seem to be at work here. While the two parties to the dispute accuse the other of 'starting it' over FaceBook it seems that it boils down to the City refusing to fund the Festival by providing services and payment for use of the mark because of limited funds and the organiser's seeking alternative funds via trade mark enforcement. Money has the upper hand again.

This Kat finds it unusual, not only that this is a dispute over a picture of knickers, but that the city gave in. I'm not sure such a result would happen in the UK, let alone the EU, where geographical trade marks are ten to the dozen.

'Deeply Rooted in Tradition' - The Red Flannel Festival site is available here.
A discussion of trade marks and brands from the IPKat's here.
The Long Johns having a chat about financial markets here.

A katpat to Bob Boad for providing the initial link
Cedar Springs gets its knickers in a twist Cedar Springs gets its knickers in a twist Reviewed by Kate Manning on Saturday, August 25, 2012 Rating: 5

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