Out in Berryville, about 50 miles west of Vienna, there’s a feel-good story about a non-profit group which, after nearly 50 years of struggle, created a community center out of a donated property with two barns on it. They’ve always called it The Barns of Rose Hill, and in September the hard work paid off with a grand opening, and now all manner of arts, music and kids functions are happening there.
And when Wolf Trap, which has its own Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, found out about it, they filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against the non-profit Barns of Rose Hill last month, in federal court in Alexandria.
So much for the feel-good story, eh?
One week after the Barns of Rose Hill’s jubilant grand opening in the rural Clarke County town of about 14,000, the Wolf Trap Foundation sent Rose Hill’s volunteer directors a letter saying they’d have to change their name, said Ann Lesman, chair of the group’s board of directors. Not really the “Congratulations and welcome to the arts community” letter they were looking for.
Then in October, a month after the Rose Hill opening, Wolf Trap went to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and registered “The Barns” as a service mark, Wolf Trap’s court filing shows. Wolf Trap had already trademarked “The Barns at Wolf Trap” years ago.
“We no sooner had opened than we got this letter ordering us to change our name,” Lesman said. “In this community, there’s a deep emotional attachment to the barns. Two generations have grown up with the idea we’re going to rebuild them, it’s going to be our community center. I can’t understand why we’re a threat to Wolf Trap.”
Wolf Trap had virtually nothing to say in response.
“We certainly aren’t trying to hurt Rose Hill in any way,” said Beth Brummel, Wolf Trap’s vice president for external affairs. “But we do have to protect our trademark.”
Why? Why do you have to protect your trademark, I asked. Why can’t the two co-exist? One is in Clarke County and is small. Neither Riverdance nor the Beach Boys will ever play there. The other is in Fairfax County and had the third largest amphitheater ticket sales in the world last year. They’re 50 miles apart. Who would confuse them?
“We just need to do what we can to protect our mark,” Brummel repeated. She said because it was a legal matter, she couldn’t go further.
Wolf Trap’s suit, filed Dec. 14 but only served on Rose Hill last week, claims that Rose Hill added its geographical term to “The Barns” “with a deliberate intent to cause consumers to believe that [Wolf Trap] had expanded its operations to include a new location.” Further, Rose Hill is using “its Infringing Mark (its name) in a manner that is calculated to deceive and cause confusion among prospective purchasers.”
Wolf Trap wants an injunction preventing Rose Hill from using “The Barns of Rose Hill” or its Web site domain name, misidentified as barnsofrosehill.com. It wants Rose Hill to “deliver up for destruction” all ads, labels, signs and other materials “bearing the Infringing Mark.” And Wolf Trap wants Rose Hill to pay damages to “compensate [Wolf Trap] for the injury it has sustained,” plus its profits, and that the total award be TRIPLED “in view of the willful and deliberate nature of the Defendant’s unlawful conduct.”
Plus pay the costs and legal fees for the lawyers at Arent Fox LLP in Washington, which has three attorneys assigned to the initial pleading.
I realize some of that is just standard litigation-style chest-puffing, but this has the makings of a gigantic misstep by Wolf Trap. And the more you learn about The Barns of Rose Hill, the more mystifying it is that this lawsuit was filed.
Rose Hill was a dairy farm owned by Horace Smithy and named for his wife, Rosalie. He donated the four-acre place to Berryville in 1964. It had a house and two barns. The house burned down in 1978, while Berryville was still trying to raise the money to restore the place.
Various citizen groups tried and failed to fix up Rose Hill. Then in 2004, another volunteer group organized The Barns of Rose Hill as a nonprofit. (Wolf Trap shoulda sued ‘em right then and there.) Over the next six years, through a variety of fundraisers, they pulled together $2.4 million to transform the two barns into a modern arts and visitors center.
The Barns of Rose Hill has an annual budget of about $150,000 and one part-time employee. Lesman points out that Wolf Trap has an annual budget of $28 million and its stated mission is to “ensure that the arts remain accessible and affordable to the broadest possible audience.”
Unless you have a name Wolf Trap disapproves of.
The Barns at Wolf Trap has Judy Collins and Alejandro Escovedo and Battlefield Band. Rose Hill has the Caleb Clauder Country Band and Gracie the Mule. At a recent film night, Rose Hill showed the Robert Duvall film “Get Low.” The movie has a mule who lives in nearby Warren County, so the owners brought Gracie over for the showing and she posed for pictures afterward.
After receiving the lawsuit last week, Lesman immediately sent a letter to Terrence Jones, the president of the Wolf Trap Foundation, asking for a meeting and saying it was “hard for us to understand how we could be in any way a threat to Wolf Trap.” Jones did not respond until Wednesday, when his office called and offered to meet with Lesman.
“We can’t afford to litigate,” Lesman said. She’s a professor of Spanish at Shenandoah University, one of many who donates time and money. But they also aren’t going down without a fight. They are setting up a fund, “Defend Our Name,” to accept donations to help with legal expenses, and contact info is available on their Web site.
A Facebook page has also sprung up, because nothing may occur until Facebook validates it. It is called Big BAD Wolf Trap Bully, and online flaming torch bearers may go there as well.
More from PostLocal: