Frenchmen Battle For The Calypso(s) Of The High Seas

Cousteau Takes Countrymen To Court Over Trademark

December 15, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

On this expedition, Jacques Cousteau is targeting a small fish.

His non-profit organization, the Cousteau Society, says an Annapolis rubber boat company is trying to encroach on valuable turf by trademarking the name Calypso, which the society has used for decades. The society's lawyers intend to block Intercoastal Inc.'s trademark application, but the company says it has no plans to back down.

"While we admire the work of the society, we don't understand thereasons they are attacking our small company," wrote Intercoastal owners Roger and Georges Dherlin in a letter to the Anne Arundel CountySun.

"They may view this as the big guy picking on a little guy, but the big guy is not that big," said John Hornick of Finnegan, Henderson, the Washington law firm representing the Cousteau Society. "The Cousteau Society is a non-profit organization that struggles for every dollar it raises. One way it raises money is through using the name Calypso."

The trouble is, the brothers Dherlin also want to usethe name. The case is not expected to be heard until next summer at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Crystal City, Va.

The Dherlins opened their company in 1986, a year after they moved to Annapolis from northern France. At first they sold inflatable boats made by other companies, then decided to start manufacturing their own line of boats.

Their search for a product and materials led them to South America, where they chose a manufacturing plant about 50 miles south of Caracas, Venezuela. And there the seeds of legal complications were sown.

"They were sitting in their plant in Venezuela trying tofigure out what to call their boat," said Dave Boyd, who acts as a consultant to the business. "They had to tell (plant workers) to turn the music down, it was so loud."

The music was calypso.

"That'swhere the name came from," said Boyd. "It had nothing to do with theCalypso" -- the name of Jacques Cousteau's oceanographic expedition ship. "They wanted something to do with the Caribbean."

The Dherlins contacted a lawyer to check whether the name was available for a trademark on an inflatable boat. The lawyer, Donald Zinn, found that the name was being used on some 35 products, none of which were boats or dinghies.

The Cousteau Society has trademarks for the name Calypso as it appears in two insignias, and for the "Calypso Log," the magazine of the Cousteau Society, a 300,000-member organization with a $13-million budget based in Norfolk, Va. It does not hold a trademarkfor the Calypso name itself.

Seeing that the name was available in their trademark category, the Dherlins applied for the Calypso trademark in April 1990.

Months before, the company had started selling boats under the Calypso name. With four or five full-time employees, depending on the season, Intercoastal rang up $450,000 in gross sales last year. The boats range from 8 to 24 feet long, selling for $1,000 to $7,000.

Everything was going to plan until last September, when Zinn was notified that the Cousteau Society had filed papers opposing the Dherlins' application.

The society argued that the name Calypso has been associated for decades in the public mind with Jacques Cousteau.

"Trademark rights are based on use," Hornick said in an interview. He wrote in his argument that "between 1950-1972, Jacques Yves-Cousteau used Calypso and Calypso logo marks in connection with educating the public about expeditions and research activities aboard the ship Calypso," affixing the logo to diving equipment, helicopters, hot air balloons, planes, even inflatable boats.

Although Cousteau has always used the Zodiac brand of inflatable boats, and the oceanographer endorses that company, the Cousteau Society said that it may begin licensing the Calypso name for a new line of inflatable boats "within the next several years."

One concern, said Hornick, is that it will appear that Cousteau is endorsing Intercoastal boats. Another is that "if you don't protect those (trademark) rights, you can lose them."

Hornick said he was reluctant to discuss the case because he feels the Dherlins are trying to "influence the outcome of this proceeding by way of going to the press."

The Dherlins make no bones about it: They are trying to portray this as a David and Goliath fight that puts them at a disadvantage against the Cousteau Society. They say they want society members to know how the organization is spending their money.

Hornick sees it the other way around.

"They're in this to make money," he said of Intercoastal. "The Cousteau Society is not. It's really the law that's driving this, not so much who the parties are."

Roger Dherlin sees some irony in the dispute. After finding the United States so accommodating to his business,he said, "the one person who tries to stop me, it's a Frenchman."

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