Real estate companies at odds over similar marks

Published 9:36 am Friday, November 28, 2014

FARGO, N.D. — An ongoing spat between North Dakota and Minnesota real estate companies with similar names and signage is playing out in federal court.

The dispute involves The Real Estate Company Inc., of Dickinson, N.D., and The Real Estate Company of Detroit Lakes Inc., of Detroit Lakes. In July 2012, the Minnesota business asked permission of the Dickinson group — and offered and a bottle of Scotch — to allow one of its agents to work under the name in the Fargo area.

The Dickinson company rejected the request and demanded that its counterpart change its logo. When that didn’t happen, the Dickinson business filed a federal lawsuit in September, accusing the Detroit Lakes company of trademark infringement, unfair competition and breach of contract.

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The Detroit Lakes company, in its answer filed last week, says the plaintiffs have no basis for their complaint and the suit should be thrown out.

“Defendant has not unlawfully interfered with plaintiff’s business,” the response says.

In the summer of 2012, the North Dakota secretary of state turned down a request to register The Real Estate Company of Detroit Lakes Inc., because of the similarity. One of the Detroit Lakes agents wanted to work in Cass County on a part-time basis because her children attending college in Fargo, according to the request from a certified public accountant.

“The company has no intention of real estate activity out of Cass County, and there are already 397 North Dakota registered businesses with ‘Real Estate’ in their name, 10 names begin with ‘Real Estate’ and six begin with ‘The Real Estate,”’ CPA Robert Thibedeau wrote.

In exchange for consent, Thibedeau offered a bottle of Glenrothes.

The Dickinson company declined the request in an August 2012 letter, with attorney Nicholas Grant writing that it had a “statewide business presence” and that the Minnesota company’s color scheme and logo “appear to be deceptively similar.”

Michael Neustel, a copyright attorney who is representing the Detroit Lakes company, said his client has no comment beyond court documents.

The suit accuses the Detroit Lakes company of using the same font and lowercase white lettering on a black background with a purple graphic of a house. The defendants admit to using the mark, “The Real Estate Company,” but said other allegations are “vague and ambiguous.”

The Dickinson company said the defendants agreed to “change their logo, remove the identical purple from their logo and use teal instead, use a different lettering font and style, remove all lower case lettering and add capitalization, and also add the language ‘of Detroit Lakes’ identifier to their mark.” The defendants deny those allegations.