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PIPELINE:Courting controversy in surfing cities

IN THE

May 10, 2007|By CHRIS EPTING

"What's in a name?" wrote Shakespeare. If the playwright was residing in Huntington Beach today, a few lawyers would let him know, that's almost for sure — thanks to a battle over a slogan and a small T-shirt shop.

Maybe you're aware of the lawsuit being stoked like fire-pit embers on a midnight beach; a line in the sand drawn between our own Huntington Beach and an upstart from the north, Santa Cruz.

Some background: In 2004, Doug Traub, president of the Huntington Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau, filed 12 trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office giving Huntington Beach exclusive rights to promote itself as Surf City USA. Traub's plan also included the creation of a boatload of Surf City USA branded goods and services, like clothing, bicycles, financial services and volleyballs. At the time Traub said, "This is quite a moment for us when you consider the amount of research we have done with thousands of people and the subsequent efforts we have taken over the past few years to bring the Surf City USA brand to market. Our investment has helped us create a monumental lifestyle brand that complements and solidifies our emerging status as the premier overnight beach destination on the West Coast."

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Both cities had referred to themselves as Surf City for years, and though they had sparred good-naturedly over the conflict, the addition of USA to Huntington Beach's slogan forced a showdown last September. That's when Noland's on the Wharf, a 45-year-old beachwear shop on the Santa Cruz pier, received a letter from a Southern California law firm threatening to sue the family business. It accused Noland's of violating a trademark because for the last year they'd sold a T-shirt featuring the words, "Surf City, Santa Cruz, California, USA." Bruce Noland (whose parents founded the store) was caught off guard, saying he was unaware that Huntington Beach had even applied for a trademark, let alone owned one. With controversy stirring, the remaining shirts became hot items, fetching as much as $1,000 apiece on eBay. Ginger Noland, the family matriarch, told the Santa Cruz tourist board about the legal threat, and the laid-back college town rallied behind Noland's. Then a local law firm offered up pro bono service to battle Huntington Beach.

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