The city of Red Wing is one of my favorite places in Minnesota. In part this is because it has two name-sake businesses that make well known and well respected products. Boots and stoneware. The people of Red Wing have reason to be proud of their town.
However, an article in last week’s Pioneer Press made it seem as though it isn’t all so rosy after all. The Red Wing Pottery Salesroom is closing down in part because the owner claims he was being harassed after filing a trademark lawsuit against the Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation.
The trademark complaint and answer are not particularly unusual as trademark lawsuits go. Allegedly, the museum sold products bearing the Red Wing name. As I don’t have any knowledge of the facts, I can’t weigh in on the strength of the legal claims. I also have no way of knowing if the harassment is real or not. However, what is interesting is that this is such a good example of how trademarks (or maybe any business dispute) can arouse passion not obvious from one’s rational analysis of the legal claims. Here, the legal claim might simply be whether or not the museum sold products in such a way that violated Red Wing Pottery’s trademark rights. But the “dispute” should be probably be seen in a larger context. I would bet that not only the parties, but the local community, will see it that way. The newspapers aren’t writing about the finer points of a Lanham Act claim, but what they see as a fight within the community as a whole.
I don’t think it is so unusual for both business owners and the local communities to feel like they have a stake in a business. Legally speaking, a third party doesn’t have any ownership of business assets like a trademark. But like sports teams, many publicly visible businesses have fans. Apparently, some businesses even have museums. Many people are deeply loyal to a favorite company brand and want to passionately defend brand whether a threat is legally justified or not.