City Councilman Who Really Wants His Town To Trademark Its Seal Trademarks It Himself As A Stunt
from the not-how-it-works dept
It’s always struck me as a little odd when cities and townships go out and trademark their logos and official seals. On the one hand, I get it. A city wants to control its branding so others can’t abuse it, even if those methods for abuse could probably be combated by laws against fraud and so on. On the other hand, far too many city governments tend to wield these trademarks to stamp out criticism, parody, and political challengers.
That said, the rush to trademark city logos and seals also isn’t universal. Florida’s Marathon City, for instance, has a logo that has not been registered as a trademark. Marathon City Councilman Mark Senmartin has been making all kinds of noise about how the city should absolutely codify its logo as a trademarked city seal. But when the larger city government examined the issue, it found no reason to do so.
At the March 12 meeting, Councilman Dan Zieg shared his view that an official seal was unnecessary. There was no one impersonating a code enforcement officer wearing a city seal on his shirt, he had said, and no citations ever issued for erroneous use. Mayor John Bartus said the logo should be made the official seal but never actually voted on the measure due to a procedural glitch. Nevertheless, the adoption measure failed due to Zieg, Vice Mayor Steven Cook and Councilman Luis Gonzalez declining to codify the seal.
Now, if you’re questioning how a city can trademark its own insignia, it very much cannot, which renders this entire episode all the more strange. The point of trademark law is to signify for the public where goods and services come from in commerce, not to be used by governments in this way.
In a subsequent meeting, Senmartin suggested that the council’s declining to trademark the seal exposed the city to the risk of thousands of dollars and to the abuse of the logo in the future, no matter whether any abuse had occurred thus far. All of this hand-wringing would be only mildly interesting, except that Senmartin apparently thought he could prove his point by going ahead and trademarking the logo himself, and then offering to sell it back to Marathon City.
Senmartin now owns the logo and gave the city a 30-day cease-and-desist notice at the March 26 council meeting. Senmartin, the longest consecutively serving councilperson since the city’s incorporation in 1999, has no prediction what will transpire at the Tuesday, April 9, meeting when the council is set to hear input from City Attorney David Migut on options at this point.
Senmartin made an offer at last week’s meeting that the council buy the trademark from him for $1 plus cost. Migut addressed the item at the time referencing Senmartin’s official and individual capacities.
For someone so concerned with trademark law, it doesn’t appear Senmartin understands it all that well. As far as options for the city are concerned, it sure seems like all it needs is a simple hearing with the USPTO to explain that Senmartin is pulling a stunt and not actually using his “trademark” in commerce. Or it could point out that trademark law doesn’t allow for the trademarking of municipality insignia like this. Nor is there any risk of public confusion over Marathon City’s continued use of the logo, meaning that the city could just ignore Senmartin’s C&D altogether. Sure, it might have to defend its use in court if Senmartin is actually bonkers enough to sue his own institution, but that seems like a case easily won by the city.
So this stunt doesn’t feel like one with a long shelf-life. On the other hand, one wonders what is going through the mind of the voters that put this clown into office in the first place.