A Trademark Grows in Katonah

March 31, 2007 — -- The names of every state in the union are included in trademarked brands, from the Alabama BBQ Company to Hot Wisconsin Cheese.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, even countries have found their way into the names of American trademarks. Look no further than Cambodia Socks Ltd or Petro Kazakhstan.

But while the rest of us spread our bagels with Philadelphia cream cheese, wash them down with a Nantucket Nectars juice, and give nary a thought to their geographical namesakes, the well-heeled residents of Katonah, N.Y., are doing their part to keep their town's name their own.

The Katonah Village Improvement Society, a local community organization, voted this week to take legal action to prevent Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from using the Katonah name for a line of paints, furnishings and furniture.

The society voted Monday to allow its trademark committee to begin filing suit against Stewart's company and authorized $200 for legal costs -- a move society president Lydia Landesberg called "a matter of civic pride."

The residents have until April 11 to contest the trademark with the U.S. patent office.

An advertisement in the satirical newsletter The Marthomether, created by Katonah resident Bill Tisherman, features a T-shirt that reads "Katonah™ The furniture formerly known as a village."

Katonah is an affluent village 40 miles north of Manhattan, officially located in the town of Bedford. The average home costs $912,000, small change compared with the $16 million, 153-acre estate Stewart herself purchased there in 2000.

The village was named, sans trademark dispute, for a 17th century Ramapo Indian chief. It was picked up and moved board-by-board to higher ground in 1897, when the land on which it was originally built was slated to be flooded during the building of Croton Dam.

Battle lines are being drawn in town. Some see this as a typical business venture. Others believe that allowing Stewart's company to trademark their town's name will result in decreased property values, an unwanted association with a convicted felon, and the initials TM following the town's name on the sign welcoming visitors to the village.

"She's just trying to trademark a line of furniture," said Ron Romanowicz, president of the village's chamber of commerce, "not trying to steal the name.

"It's an emotionally charged issue and some people don't understand the issue. She won't own the name Katonah, she'll only own the name 'Katonah furniture,'" Romanowicz said. "Many communities have their names trademarked. There are 263 brands with the name Nantucket and 153 with Greenwich," he said.

But for Landesberg and the Katonah Village Improvement Society, this isn't a dispute between a wealthy town and a wealthy individual. It is, instead, a story of a small town versus a corporate behemoth: David versus Goliath -- Katonah and the Whale.

"We're a close-knit community," Landsberg said of the village. "We're a little town with a lot of moxie … and we like to think what we've got here is pretty special."

The trademark dispute, she said, was thrust upon the society, which, in the past concerned itself with things like movie night at the library and town beautification days.

"There are no franchise businesses in town. … To have a corporation come in and put our name on the shelves of Macy's and Wal-Mart seems a little invasive. … We've really been hearing that people are concerned, people are saying, 'Don't let them do this to us.'"

According to Lynne Beresford, commissioner of trademarks at the U.S. patent office, the courts will have to decide what will become of the name Katonah.

But when it comes to the legality of trademarks that use the name of a place, she said, "part of it has to do with whether the mark is descriptive." That is to say, does the name Katonah describe the place where the company is located or where the furniture is produced?

"Generally, [a trademark] is more likely to have more problems if the product is not actually from there and has the name," she said.

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