off the Stratosphere's Ace Play loyalty club. A Clark County judge ordered
Marchex to shut down the website.
In 2011, owners of the Golden Nugget downtown sued Kanter Associates SA of Panama over a website called thegoldennuggett.com. Kanter added an extra T to the casino's name. Earlier that year, the property sued the developers of golddennugget.com, which added an extra D.
And in 2010, Station Casinos sued Ryan Murphy of Great Britain and S.L. Enterprises for developing vegasstationcasino.com.
Sometimes it isn't just a name but a look that results in legal action. That's called trade dress.
The owners of New York-New York found themselves at the defensive end of a trade dress action in 1997, shortly after the resort opened.
The New York Stock Exchange demanded that the resort's owners, MGM-Mirage and Primadonna Resorts, change the name of the casino's "New York Slot Exchange" slot machine area. The Stock Exchange didn't like the inference that trading securities was a form of gambling.
"You would think that everybody would know it was a joke, but the New York Stock Exchange wasn't laughing," LaFrance said.
New York-New York no longer uses that name.
According to trademark law, even if a phrase doesn't actually confuse customers, if it tarnishes or weakens a trademark, it can be actionable.
Trade dress also is at issue in the legal dustup between Steve Wynn and his former business partner, Kazuo Okada. The bronze curved shape of the Wynn and Encore was emulated in an overseas Okada project without Wynn's permission, Tratos said.
Another one-of-a-kind protected device is the Wynn's front marquee, which seemingly squeezes and stretches video images with a sliding bar.
"That sign attracts attention," Tratos said. "That's an idea that is essentially protected by intellectual property in a way that does what this town is supposed to do -- attract people, hold them here pleasurably, let them enjoy the experience and keep coming up with something new to innovate."
Patent and trademark law also can protect entrepreneurs in Las Vegas. Nevada law, for example, allows celebrity impersonators to perform live. Many, however, still hold licensing agreements with the performers or their families.
Casino ownership also is changing intellectual property law in Las Vegas.
With more corporate ownership and managers who have to answer to shareholders, there's less dispute resolution by phone. Tratos said he is amazed there haven't been more big fights, especially given that Strip competitors commonly latch onto similar popular ideas.
"What's fascinating to me is not the number of challenges but the number of matters that never turn into fights," Tratos said. "For many years in this community, one of the things I really admired was the hotel owners when it was less corporate. If somebody had a problem with somebody else, they'd pick up the phone and they'd call. They'd talk to each other. They'd have a discussion. Frequently, I'd have a call from one of them and a call from the other of them, and I'd say, 'Guys, I can't represent both of you, but I can tell you what a court is going to do with it.' And then they'd resolve it.
"There were a dozen matters every year where somebody was thinking that their promotion or giveaway was similar to somebody else's and they were really offended. But when they learned what the law was, they'd always have the ability to work it out."
One of the most commonly duplicated promotions was "A car a day in May," a vehicle giveaway promotion that was copied by several casinos.
Another logo that's prime for copying is the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign. But that's fair use. It was never copyrighted and is now part of the public domain.
Even Rachel Maddow uses it for her "Best New Thing in the World Today" feature on MSNBC.
Las Vegas also was the home of one of the biggest failures in intellectual property protection. When R&R Partners created the "What happens here, stays here" slogan for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the group never protected it.
"They made some serious mistakes because they didn't federally register the trademark," LaFrance said. "That was a no-brainer."
The LVCVA assigned the trademark back to R&R, resolving the issue, but Las Vegas easily could have lost its most famous and successful tagline.
The lesson to be learned, LaFrance said: Always be proactive in protecting your intellectual property.
Evolving technology will make protection even more important. As more Strip marquees get replaced with dynamic video screens, casino operators will have to be more wary of what they place on the signs.
"You can't just throw stuff on the screen," Tratos said. "You've got to make sure you haven't exposed yourself to unwanted litigation simply because you posted it on your video wall."
Intellectual property cases are likely to become more prevalent, as well, because of the way the original 1976 Copyright Act was written. It took effect in 1978 and allows artists, creators and authors to reclaim their rights after 35 years.
"So you're going to see a lot of, 'Give me my song back, Mr. Music Publisher; give me my book back, Mr. Book Publisher; give me my film back, Mr. Film Distributor,'" Tratos said. "It seemed like a long time in the future 35 years ago, but it's on us now."
Early protection is the best way to protect a worthwhile investment.
"Protection up front first is critical," he said. "If you fail to protect it up front, it's lost. Early protection is the key."
(c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)
Visit the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) at www.lasvegassun.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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