Ditch Plains, one of the top-ranked surfing beaches along the east coast, is having terrible trouble this year. First of all, late last year, the storms washed away practically all the sand on the arc of that bay. The beach is essentially rubble and hardpan. You can still surf there, but it’s not anywhere as much fun as having a beach where handsome young people can sit on blankets and cheer for you.
Then this spring, an outfit called Seena International threatened to stop anybody in Montauk or anywhere else for that matter, from using the name “Ditch Plains” in connection with selling apparel. The company has filed a trademark claim for the name “Ditch Plains.” According to Seena, anybody who writes Ditch Plains on a sweatshirt and sells it in a store either pays Seena International for the privilege or may be sued in court.
The problem of the lack of sand at Ditch Plains was brought to the attention of the East Hampton Town authorities last month. Having no sand at the Ditch will have a negative impact on Montauk tourism. The Town, bless them, took action. Last Wednesday, the day after we went to press for this issue, the Town selected a construction firm to haul 50,000 cubic yards of sand in big trucks out to Ditch Plains and dump it on the hardpan, restoring Ditch to its formerly natural state. They hope to have the work done by the Fourth of July and though they realize this is only a temporary fix, they hope summer storms and hurricanes which might wash it out again will respect what is being done here at the Ditch and do their dirty work elsewhere, at least until late autumn. After that, well, the Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan, big time, which will perhaps bring a more serious stabilization of the beaches not only at Ditch but at other beaches in Montauk, the Hamptons and Fire Island.
As for the problem of Seena International declaring they own the name “Ditch Plains,” since they filed for it and paid the fee to own it, that remains to be seen. At the present time, with the warning letter just out, all the authorities are running around saying, “Oh we’d better trademark East Hampton or Napeague or the North Fork.” Things are falling away.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened here. For example, for at least 20 years, Pepperidge Farm has been marketing a popular milk chocolate chunk cookie called Soft Baked Montauk Milk Chocolate Cookies. I have no doubt that lawyers at Pepperidge Farm have protected that company with a trademark—another baking company can’t put out a milk chocolate chunk cookie with that name. But that does not mean Pepperidge Farm owns the name “Montauk”? You could name a sneaker “The Montauk.” You could name a morning-after pill “The Montauk.” And Pepperidge Farm would not be able to lay a hand on you. Seena is just laying claim to apparel that says “Ditch Plains,” going nuts anyway.
The fact is, you can only trademark a name for a specific purpose and that specific purpose is supposed to be spelled out. In legalese, a trademark is defined as “a word, name, symbol or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.”
I know of two recent high-profile trademark disputes involving local Hampton celebrities. One dispute went on for five years. Another has just recently gotten underway.
The first was East Hampton resident Martha Stewart’s attempt to trademark the name “Katonah,” a town up in New York’s Dutchess County. Her company got a trademark for Katonah as the name that would be on a line of home furnishings. Obviously she didn’t think the whole town could be trademarked, but certainly a community group called the Katonah Village Improvement Society was worried. Their slogan was NOBODY OWNS KATONAH. In the end, after the lawyers hashed it out, an agreement was worked out. Martha would have the rights for “Katonah” furniture, mirrors, pillows and chairpads, but would drop applications for such goods as hardware, paint, lighting and textiles.
The recent lawsuit involves the wealthy Southampton socialite Georgette Mosbacher, who today is the CEO of the cosmetics firm Borghese, Inc. A trial about this is scheduled for this summer.
Borghese, as you probably know, is an old Italian family of royal lineage. About 50 years ago, Princess Marcella Borghese and Revlon created a well-known cosmetics firm by the name of Borghese, Inc. which is now run by Ms. Mosbacher. The rights to that name belong to Borghese, Inc.
Ms. Mosbacher, who is from Indiana (not royalty), got along fine with the Borghese family for many years. Thirty years ago, the Princess’s son Francesco Borghese created his own line of cosmetics under names like Orlane, Perlier and Elariia, and family members have appeared on QVC and HSN to sell their beauty products. Then Mr. Borghese’s son Lorenzo appeared on the ABC television show The Bachelor and was touted by ABC as being the grandson of Countess Borghese who founded the firm Borghese Inc. Ms. Mosbacher warned the family about implying any connection between Lorenzo and the Borghese firm. Then Lorenzo applied for a trademark for a line of pet shampoos to be called “La Dolce Vita by Prince Lorenzo Borghese.” At that, Borghese, Inc. filed a lawsuit.
The family, in its defense, says Ms. Mosbacher and Borghese, Inc. do not have the right to their history.
“They don’t even want us to mention that we are the family,” Lorenzo told The New York Times last week.
But, as I said, you can trademark a phrase, but what it is for has to be specifically spelled out. Here are a few local places and how they might work for trademark purposes.
There’s a place called Louse Point in East Hampton. There’s got to be something good to come of this. I say Louse Point Bug Spray would be a best seller.
And why did they call it that anyway? I think I don’t want to know. Or maybe there was just this very bad tempered man living there. A louse.
How about North Sea Rainwear? Or Shinnecock Veterinary Polish, for farmers to keep their roosters nice and shiny?
Get a good night’s sleep with Napeague Sleeping Elixer. Buy the Pantigo, this chic line of women’s running shorts.
The Deerfield Fence Company. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is such a thing already.
Lazy Point, the ultimate in our new line of recliners.
Breezy Point tennis rackets.
The Wickapogue Basket Manufacturing Company.
The Montauk Lighthouse Flashlight Company.
Good Ground—Your family member deserves the very best when they pass on.
The Mattituck—The Mattress and Bedding company.
Agawam swim trunks.
Greenport—The After Dinner Drink of Ireland.
The Jericho Bugle Company.
And then there is, of course The Hamptons. We stand here on firm ground, at least for the moment. But watch out.