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Spirit Bear trademark at centre of legal dispute

A Kelowna business man says he’s going to fight to the bitter end to protect his company he says is being threatened by a greedy First Nation band and city.

Mike Urban of Urban Distilleries is in the middle of a trademark battle he says he was first forced into in 2011.

“I put through my own trademark, Spirit Bear vodka, before I opened up Urban Distilleries in 2010,” he said.

“I did my due diligence before I came up with my brands, and there was no issue with anything.”

Then, a year later he heard the City of Terrace and the Kitasoo First Nation opposed the trademark.

The Kitasoo First Nation and the City of Terrace say that defending the Spirit Bear trademark in court is in the best interests of the northwest.

“The Spirit Bear is associated with this part of B.C. and the City of Terrace wants to continue to maintain the uniqueness of its trademark,” said Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski about the trademark infringement lawsuit filed against Urban Distilleries.

“Sometimes you have to push a little bit particularly when it’s being used on a product that isn’t the best representation for a special creature.”

According to Kitasoo technical advisor Larry Greba, “Anything associated with alcohol isn’t considered an appropriate use of the mark.”

Neither of those arguments hold much value to Urban, who believes their motivation is greed based. The Spirit Bear name has been used on other products, so long as there is a monetary exchange.

“I don’t know why else they would be doing this,” he said. “ I promote the bear and Terrace. I promote tourism. Now I’m going after zero tourism for Terrace. I just don’t understand, I just wanted to give back.”

Since the company started, Urban says he’s been putting aside proceeds from the sale of his products to benefit the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.

And for the combined efforts of fundraising and promoting the region, he said he’s received “tons of support.”

“Many people who live in that area are saddened and disappointed in their city,” he said, pointing out that his Facebook page is filled with letters from people who have said as much.

And he’s hoping that written support will somehow translate into a legal win. If it doesn’t, the company he’s been building will die.

“I’d have to start from scratch… from day one,” he said. “I no longer have the means to get the brand off the ground.”

Urban says if you would like to help Urban Distilleries, donations can be made at any Scotiabank (acct # 80150 0212822) or you can help just by going to your local liquor store and picking up a Spirit Bear Vodka or Gin.

If the liquor store does not carry it, have them bring it in.

Help us stop the province from trademarking and making money off our wildlife.

•••

Terrace first trademarked the name in 2004, and then in 2006 the Kitasoo, which represent the Kitasoo and Xaixais who live at Klemtu on the north coast to mutually trademark the name and to share the cost of opposing other groups from infringing on the mark.

The province also trademarked the name after it became the official mammal of B.C. in 2006.

Since 2006, the Kitasoo and the city have successfully challenged three attempts by businesses to use the name Spirit Bear, and worked out agreements with at least one other to use the name, Spirit Bear Coffee Company in an agreement that saw money given to both Terrace and the Kitasoo.

Terrace, has also trademarked the names Kennode, Kennodei, and Moksgm’ol, lost a challenge this year to a phytoplankton company wanting to use the mark Kermode Warrior.

The Kitasoo only trademarked Spirit Bear and do not have an interest in these other names.

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