REPRESENTATIVES from the Kitasoo First Nation and the City of Terrace say that a recent move to defend the Spirit Bear trademark in court is in the best interests of the northwest, and that the cost for challenging businesses that use the mark are manageable.
Both have now launched a lawsuit against Kelowna-based Urban Distilleries for using the trademarked name shared by the two parties to market brands of gin and vodka.
Terrace first trademarked the name in 2004, and then in 2006 the Kitasoo, which represent the Kitasoo and Xaixais who live at Klemtu on the north coast to mutually trademark the name and to share the cost of opposing other groups from infringing on the mark.
The province also trademarked the name after it became the official mammal of B.C. in 2006.
Since 2006, the Kitasoo and the city have successfully challenged three attempts by businesses to use the name Spirit Bear, and worked out agreements with at least one other to use the name, Spirit Bear Coffee Company in an agreement that saw money given to both Terrace and the Kitasoo.
Terrace, has also trademarked the names Kennode, Kennodei, and Moksgm’ol, lost a challenge this year to a phytoplankton company wanting to use the mark Kermode Warrior.
The Kitasoo only trademarked Spirit Bear and do not have an interest in these other names.
“We’ve been working this file for well over a year” said Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski about the recent lawsuit filed against Urban Distilleries for trademark infringement. “We’ve been trying to work with this company to get them to move away from the Spirit Bear logo-ing and we’re giving them some time to do that.”
“The Spirit Bear is associated with this part of B.C. and the City of Terrace wants to continue to maintain the uniqueness of its trademark. Sometimes you have to push a little bit particularly when it’s being used on a product that isn’t the best representation for a special creature.”
According to the Kitasoo technical advisor Larry Greba, “Anything associated with alcohol isn’t considered an appropriate use of the mark.”
The costs of defending the trademark have yet to be released by the city, but Greba said on that on the Kitasoo end costs have not been high, especially considering that it’s split with Terrace.
“It’s been more than we’d like, but it’s not really burdensome,” said Greba of the three defences and the current court case. “For a municipality like Terrace I don’t think if people have the numbers they would think it out of line. With Kitasoo that’s the case, and it’s a much smaller First Nations community.”
“If it got into some significant court case people would want to take a second look at that,” Greba added.
According to both First Nation and city officials, defending the mark is worthwhile because it helps raise awareness of the animal’s importance to the region.
“We always consult with Terrace. Everything we’ve done to date has been done collaboratively, we’ve had a pretty strong relationship that way,” said Greba.