Judge: 800-SKI-VAIL doesn’t infringe on resort trademark | VailDaily.com

Judge: 800-SKI-VAIL doesn’t infringe on resort trademark

Cliff Thompson

VAIL – Vail Resorts lost a four-year-old trademark infringement lawsuit against a Fort Collins company using the toll-free 1-800-SKI-VAIL phone number.Vail Resorts is considering whether it will file an appeal, spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said Wednesday. The ski resort company had claimed that Vend-Tel-Co was engaging in deceptive trade practices and creating confusion in the marketplace. Vend-Tel-Co is an interconnect company that owns 40 such “vanity” telephone numbers, including numbers for Aspen and Telluride, that callers can use to make reservations for lodging, rentals and other services.”We were exonerated on all counts,” said Eric Hanson, a former owner of Vend-Tel-Co who was named in the suit.Judge Richard Matsch, who famously presided over the Timothy McVeigh terrorism trial, ruled Jan. 3 that there was no infringement and that the trademark claim was weak because a number of businesses in town use the word “Vail”; that Vail Pass predated the naming of the ski mountain; and that the name is also associated with a geographical location, not a ski company. Matsch also ruled there was no likelihood of confusion or deception over the company’s use of the name. “Their objection is to the combination of the words ‘ski’ and ‘Vail.’ This claims too much,” Matsch wrote in his decision.Vail Resorts registered the name “Vail” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in February 1987 as it related to skiing, ski-related facilities and other skiing-related activities. Vend-Tel-Co registered 1-800-SKI-Vail in 1997 for marketing services related to the ski industry.”To grant the protections claimed by the plaintiffs in this case would create a monopolistic empire requiring that anyone who offers any type of service to connect the public with recreational activities in the Vail Valley must first seek a license or permission from the plaintiffs before they can proceed,” Matsch wrote. “That expands the protection of the trademark far beyond the purpose of trademark law and would be contrary to the public policy of promoting economic competition.””It’s pretty big in trademark law,” said Luke Santangelo, the lawyer who represented Hanson and Vend-Tel-Co. “They’re a big company and we’re a little guy. They thought they were going to roll over us. It took a lot of determination to stick this thing out.”But Vail Resorts isn’t pleased with the ruling.”We disagree that it was not trademark infringement,” Ladyga said. “We may decide to appeal that portion of the infringement decision.”Santangelo said the vanity phone number company wasn’t interested in piggybacking on Vail Resorts’ efforts. Callers using the 800 number are told there is “no affiliation with Vail Resorts.””We weren’t trying to trade on Vail’s reputation,” he said. “If anything, we were trying to show that by not being affiliated you could get the best deal.”The town of Vail has a licensing agreement with Vail Resorts over use of the name and the company charges businesses using the trademarked name a licensing fee. How the ruling will affect the branding of the trademark and Vail Resorts’ licensing agreements is not immediately clear.An appeal, if filed, will be made to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.Vend-Tel-Co was awarded costs by Matsch, and owner Hanson said he expects to try and collect an estimated $400,000 of legal fees and other expenses from Vail Resorts. Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado