Appeals panel rules against LaPorte County tourism bureau

2013-04-16T17:50:00Z Appeals panel rules against LaPorte County tourism bureauStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
April 16, 2013 5:50 pm  • 

The LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau has lost the latest round of a legal fight over its bid to lay claim to a website address, visitmichigancitylaporte.com.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday ruled in favor of Serenity Springs, a resort in the area of Interstate 94 and U.S. 20 just east of Michigan City.

Jonathan Watson, of South Bend, an attorney for the resort, said Serenity Springs is cleared to resume using the website address, something that nearly landed his client, Laura Ostergren, in jail.

"They're free to start using the web address again," said Watson.

The dispute began in September 2009 when the LCC&VB unveiled Visit Michigan City LaPorte as the new branding identifier for the area following a study by a private marketing firm.

A representative of Serenity Springs attended.

Immediately after the meeting, a Serenity Springs employee registered the domain name "visitmichigancitylaporte.com" and set it up to redirect Internet traffic to the Serenity Springs website.

The LCC&VB the next day tried registering the same domain name but discovered it already had been purchased and was being used as the resort's website address.

The tourism bureau alleged trademark infringement and cybersquatting, claims that were upheld in March 2012 by LaPorte Superior Court 4 Judge William Boklund. He previously had threatened to jail Ostergren if she failed to stop using the website address until the matter was settled in court.

Among the tourism bureau arguments were trademark infringement since money was invested in developing the brand and legally defending its use.

But, in its written decision, the Appellate Court ruled ''visitmichigancitylaporte.com'' could not be trademarked because the name is a geographical location.

And, since Serenity Springs registered the website address first, cybersquatting could not have occurred, the appeals panel ruled.

"You can't copyright a place," said Watson.

The Appellate Court left other challenges by the tourism bureau up to the local court to revisit and decide like allegations of unfair trade practices.

LCC&VB attorney Michael Bergerson said redirecting Internet users looking for things to do in LaPorte County to a privately owned resort webpage is not fair.

Bergerson said a favorable ruling on the remaining arguments could lead to Serenity Springs having to discontinue using the website address.

"We'll wait and find out," said Bergerson, who said LCC&VB still has website addresses like visitmichigancitylaporte.org and visitmichigancitylaporte.biz.

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