What’s in a name? “Everything,” says The Barns of Rose Hill, the Berryville, VA fledgling arts organization that is currently resisting the Wolf Trap Foundation’s legal demand that it remove “The Barns” from its name.
Wolf Trap Foundation, the Vienna, Virginia performing arts organization, has filed suit in the Alexandria federal court, claiming trademark infringement and asserting that the use of “The Barns of Rose Hill” in Berryville will confuse its arts patrons.
Ann Lesman, Chair of The Barns of Rose Hill board, commented on the suit saying, “We are what our name implies: two restored 20th Century dairy barns in Berryville’s Rose Hill Park. It is who we are, what we have always been since the barns were built in the early 20th century. Our name is generic and comes from descriptive use. Frankly, we are shocked and saddened by Wolf Trap’s actions, especially when their stated mission affirms that it ‘…ensures that the arts remain accessible and affordable to the broadest possible audience.'”
“Rose Hill” was a dilapidated downtown Berryville mansion in the 1970s when civic leaders in this rural community first proposed that it be turned into an arts center. In 1978 the mansion burned, so the plan focused on the property’s two dairy barns. During the next forty years, the barns fell into increasing disrepair as the town lacked restoration funds and several citizen efforts fell short.
In September 2004, the present group of local volunteers, organized The Barns of Rose Hill as a nonprofit. In a six year effort, they raised the $2.4 million necessary to transform the old barns into a 21st Century arts and visitors center. The Barns of Rose Hill is the largest private undertaking in Clarke County, Virginia, a rural community of 14,000 in the northern Shenandoah Valley.
The problems with Wolf Trap arose shortly after the Grand opening of the The Barns of Rose Hill. One week later on September 6, 2011, Wolf Trap attorneys sent The Barns of Rose Hill a letter asserting trademark infringement.
On October 7, 2011, Wolf Trap filed application with the U.S. Trademark Office for “The Barns.”
The DC firm Arent Fox, LLP filed suit on December 14th 2001 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria stating that this tiny rural arts group will, by the use of its name, cause Wolf Trap Foundation clients confusion and do Wolf Trap harm.
A summons was served on The Barns on Thursday January 12, 2012.
On that day, Ann St. Clair Lesman, Chair, Board of Directors for the Barns of Rose Hill sent a letters to Mr. Terrence Jones, President and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and their legal representative.
In that letter Ms. Lesman offered to meet with Wolf Trap and their representation to attempt to discuss the matter. Her letter closed with, “I would like to meet with you and/or Mr. Gary Tabach to discuss what steps we can take to satisfy Wolf Trap, so that we can move forward with our mission to serve Berryville and Clarke County.”
She received no response.
A simple Google search for “Barns art center” produces dozens of other organizations that share the common word as part of their name. The issue, based on their trademark infringement case, must therefore be based on proximity. Ms. Lesman addressed this concern saying, “It is hard for us to understand how we could be in any way a threat to Wolf Trap. [They] operate with an annual budget of $28 million, 70 full-time employees, and a mission that ‘enhances our nation’s cultural life.’ We have one part-time employee and an annual budget of less than $150,000. What’s more, we serve a largely agricultural county with a population of 14,000, situated west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and across the Shenandoah River, 50 miles from Wolf Trap.”
The huge financial disparity between the two organizations poses a daunting challenge for the nascent arts center in Berryville. “We have an attorney on our board who helped us with this issue initially,” Ms. Lesman said, “but we soon were advised we needed a trademark attorney.” Once the suit was filed they were told that they would need a trademark litigation attorney.” Lesman said, “The Barns of Rose Hill simply does not have the financial resources to fight this in court.”
The Barns of Rose Hill has 16 days to respond to the suit and Ms. Lesman said, “At this point we are just trying to buy more time.”
Wolf Trap representatives did not respond to our inquiries.