News that a foundation with a multi-million dollar budget was suing the small, but vibrant arts center located in Berryville, Va. burned a path through news and social media outlets Thursday, January 19th and sparked an outcry from residents that was heard throughout Northern Va. At issue is The Wolf Trap Foundation’s decision to sue The Barns of Rose Hill over their name. The suit claims that the use of the word “Barns” in their name infringes on their brand and does them damage. Response from citizens was swift and harsh. Comments littered Wolf Trap’s Facebook wall ranging from “Shame on you Wolf Trap” to “WOLF TRAP IS A BULLY.” The onslaught of comments continued throughout the day until the Wolf Trap Foundation released a statement just before 5:00 p.m. The full statement is posted here.
In its statement, the Wolf Trap foundation positions themselves as the victim in a trademark violation and a champion for consumers who would be easily confused stating, “Wolf Trap has no desire to force The Barns of Rose Hill out of business. This is strictly about trademarks, and the need to prevent consumer confusion in the marketplace.” It further said, “In the case of The Barns of Rose Hill, the risk of consumer confusion is particularly strong because the theater is located fewer than 50 miles from The Barns at Wolf Trap, and because the theater offers the same type of performing arts and education programs to the same potential customers as Wolf Trap.”
They also pointed a finger at the Barns of Rose Hill for not communicating and for seeking legal counsel. The Wolf Trap statement said, “Since September, Wolf Trap has repeatedly informed The Barns of Rose Hill that it would like to settle this amicably, and avoid litigation. We emphasized that we were not requesting any monetary payment from The Barns of Rose Hill, and that our only objective is to prevent consumer confusion. Thus, we are simply asking The Barns of Rose Hill to use a trademark other than ‘The Barns’ as the name of its theater. In order to make The Barns of Rose Hill’s transition to a new name as simple as possible, we have offered The Barns of Rose Hill a generous phase-out period to make this change. The Barns of Rose Hill retained outside counsel, and refused to engage in any dialogue with us.”
Ann Lesman, Chair of the Board of Directors for The Barns of Rose Hill responded to Wolf Trap’s statement expressing some concerns over their assertions. She characterized their attempts to resolve the situation amicably as essentially ultimatums. “They have sent letters that they would like to resolve it amicably, but the terms have been each time that we change our name. We respectfully disagreed, explaining the century-long history of our name,” said Lesman.
Ms. Lesman also responded to the Wolf Trap statement,”The Barns of Rose Hill retained outside counsel, and refused to engage in any dialogue with us,” by saying, “We did engage counsel, trademark attorney William Eshelman. The letters from Wolf Trap came to us from their attorneys, Arent Fox. Since I have no legal training, we felt that we needed to have an attorney to communicate with their attorneys. I thought that the exchange of letters between the attorneys, Arent Fox and Wm. Eshelman constituted dialogue. Nevertheless when the communication between the attorneys did not accomplish its hoped-for goal of allowing us to retain our name, I wrote personally to Gary Tabach, Chair of the Board and Terrence Jones, CEO/President, asking to meet personally with them to see what we could do to satisfy Wolf Trap.”
The burgeoning public relations storm seems to have spurred a dialogue. Ms. Lesman said, “I did not receive an immediate reply, but yesterday afternoon there was a call from Terrence Jones’ secretary about scheduling a meeting. The meeting has been set for Monday morning.”
While the situation looks dire for the small not-for-profit, fans are adamant about continuing the fight for the name that their barns have always carried.