Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blacksburg real estate company accuses Virginia Tech officials of fraud

A company sued by Virginia Tech for using the word "Hokie" in its name without the university's consent has countersued and is claiming that Tech has perpetrated a fraud on the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

Attorneys for John Wilburn, owner of Hokie Real Estate Inc. in Blacksburg, allege that Tech spokesman Larry Hincker and Locke White, the Director of Tech's Office of Licensing and Trademarks, made fraudulent claims in Tech's application to trademark the term "Hokies."

According to the filing, Tech's trademark application claimed the first documented use of the term dates to the 1890s. Wilburn disputes this, saying the first use occurred in 1949.

Furthermore, Wilburn's attorney Keith Finch wrote in an e-mail to the Roanoke Times, that Tech falsely claimed the university was "using the term HOKIES on certain types of goods when it was not actually doing so," duped businesses and the public into believing that Tech had trademark rights to the term Hokie and that the university illegally used a trademark symbol on items bearing the Hokie moniker.

The filing asks the court to strip Tech of its Hokies trademark, to forever bar the university from trademarking both the terms Hokie and Hokies, to force the university to destroy illegally trademarked goods and give up profits from the sale of goods illegally marked with the federal registration symbol.

The filing further asks that monetary damages be assessed against Hincker and White for the alleged fraud.

The university sued Wilburn and Hokie Real Estate on Oct. 18 in the U.S. District Court for Western Virginia and alleged that in using the term "Hokie," Wilburn is infringing on Tech's exclusive right to the "famous Hokies and Hokie trademarks."

Tech's suit asks that the company be ordered to cease using the name and pay Tech's legal fees and unspecified damages.

Tech owns rights to the term "Hokies," according to the U.S. Patent database. An owner for "Hokie" is not listed.

A handful of companies established many years ago in Blacksburg -- Hokie Spokes, Hokie House and Hokie Hair -- continue to use the "Hokie" moniker. Tech officials have said the university will not challenge those uses, but that no new corporate uses of the name will be allowed.

Before lawsuits were filed, the university declined Wilburn's request to use the name under a licensing agreement, Hincker has said.

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