Posted on 30 January 2014.
By Judy Reed
The Red Flannel Festival has sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Cedar Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, ordering them to stop using the terms “The Red Flannel Town” and “Red Flannel Town, USA” or face legal action.
When the Chamber organized the city’s annual holiday event this year, they named it “A Red Flannel Town Christmas, Come Mingle with Kris Kringle” and registered the name with the State of Michigan on October 8, 2013. “Our position is that Cedar Springs is Red Flannel Town and always has been, and that’s why the holiday event was so titled,” explained Chamber president Shawn Kiphart.
They also registered two other taglines, which were both approved by the state: A Red Flannel Town Christmas, and The Original Red Flannel Town, USA, Cedar Springs, MI.
The Red Flannel Festival shows they registered “The Red Flannel Town” on June 3, 2005, and “Red Flannel Town, U.S.A.” on June 27, 2011.
Although the state approved the Chamber’s taglines, the Red Flannel Festival feels it is trademark infringement. “We believe the Chamber’s use of these trademarks constitutes trademark infringement, unfair competition, as well as other common law causes of action,” read the cease and desist letter sent by the Red Flannel Festival’s lawyer, Frank Scutch.
Kiphart responded with a letter asking where they had infringed on the Red Flannel Festival’s property, stating that they would not use their specific phrases without permission. The Festival’s law firm then sent a response that the Chamber insignias specifically incorporate the Festival’s registered marks “The Red Flannel Town” and “Red Flannel Town, U.S.A.” and that their use on their own or as part of a phrase is a direct violation of the Red Flannel Festival’s trademark rights. The letter also said that was likely to “cause confusion as to the source or sponsorship of Chamber materials and events.”
Kiphart doesn’t agree. “Red Flannel Town is part of a larger title we use. We are referencing Cedar Springs. There is no confusion. I don’t think people think, ‘Oh, it’s the Red Flannel Festival,’ we believe they think of Cedar Springs.”
He noted that Cedar Springs was known as the Red Flannel Town long before the Festival trademarked it. On their application, it states that the first time the phrase was used in commerce was October 1, 1950. But there are meeting minutes by the City of Cedar Springs dating back to December of 1941 showing the city was using it on their letterhead at that time.
Kiphart said he would like to know, does the Red Flannel Festival not think Cedar Springs is the Red Flannel Town? That it should only be used in connection with the Festival itself?
The Post asked Festival President Michele Andres that question. “The Festival has owned several state and federal trademarks for many years,” she said. “Red Flannel Town and Red Flannel Town, USA are both owned legally by the Festival regardless of anyone’s personal opinion. The Festival has readily granted permission to several organizations and entities who formally request to use its various trademarks. These marks simply do not belong to the Chamber.”
Kiphart said he doesn’t think they should belong to either entity. “It doesn’t belong to us. It’s the town’s identity,” he said. “If they are asking us to stop referring to Cedar Springs as the Red Flannel Town, we will not. Fear and intimidation tactics will not work on us. They are more than welcome to keep spending money on attorney fees to strip the town of its identity, but we will not play ball.”
Andres remarked that Kiphart needs to schedule some time to professionally and maturely discuss the matter directly with the Red Flannel Festival Board of Directors. “We have asked to meet numerous times and have received no response. It is extremely disappointing that this organization’s leadership does not understand or comprehend basic trademark infringement, especially as business owners.”
Kiphart said they have never declined to meet with them about using the Festival’s logo. “As we have not wanted to use their exact logo, we haven’t met,” he explained. “We didn’t contact them to ask permission to use the town’s identity.”
Kiphart said the Chamber might be open to sitting down with the Festival to discuss the issue, as long as it was open to the public.
“We want to know what the community thinks,” said Kiphart. “We will do what the community wants. If the community wants us to tell them (the RFF) to take their ball and go home, we will.”
According to the most recent letter sent to the Chamber by the Festival, they have until February 4 to discuss with the Festival the steps they will take to “cease infringement of the RFF’s trademarks.” If they do not hear from them, “the RFF will have no choice but to take legal action against the Chamber,” the letter said.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org (limit 350 words), comment on this post, call the Chamber at 616-773-5126, or the Red Flannel Festival at 616-696-2662.
The Red Flannel Festival will also be having their annual board meeting tonight (Thursday, January 30) at 6:30 p.m. at their office on 21 E. Maple Street, where they will vote on a new grand marshal for this year’s 75th Festival, and elect their officers for the year. Those wishing to volunteer are also welcome.