The court battle over the popular "M.R. Ducks" T-shirts began yesterday with the originator of the shirt design saying he took steps to protect it from imitators in 1986.
Lloyd B. Lewis, president of the Ocean City-based Talbot Street Pier, testified in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that the shirts gained boardwalk popularity in the three years after he introduced them in 1983.
"We had experienced a steady increase in growth," Mr. Lewis told a jury in the courtroom of Judge Benson E. Legg. "We had something that was becoming quite popular, and we didn't want anyone else to take it and go with it."
Talbot Street Pier, which makes the "M.R. Ducks" shirts, sued Layton & Associates of Arbutus, which countered with its "M.R. Not Ducks -- M.R. Decoys" shirts.
Talbot claims Layton infringed on its copyright. Layton insists that its shirts do not confuse the public, but clearly parody "Ducks."
Mr. Lewis testified that he registered his T-shirt design with the state to protect "M.R. Ducks," which he also uses on golf shirts, caps and tank tops. His shirts have large, colorful pictures of two ducks in flight with the words "M.R. Ducks" on the back and a smaller picture and lettering on the front.
The "M.R. Not Ducks -- M.R. Decoys," while similarly designed, picture decoys instead of ducks.
Mr. Lewis said he derived his design from an Eastern Shore duck hunters' story: First hunter, "M.R. Ducks." Second hunter, "M.R. Not Ducks." First hunter, "C.M. Wangs?" Second hunter, "L.I.B., M.R. Ducks."
He said he first produced the shirts to advertise an oceanfront bar he opened in 1982, and the shirts were worn by bar employees. He said customers asked for them, however, and he distributed 300 to 400 in the first year.
Mr. Lewis said his design evolved over several years. Under questioning by his lawyer, D. Christopher Ohly, he said he worked with a graphic artist.
"We decided to put the design on the back because, in those days, very few T-shirts had designs on the back," he said. He noted that the lettering was arched. The lettering is similar on the "Not Ducks" shirts.
Jurors smiled as they passed around the shirts and listened to the testimony.
Edward P. Camus, an attorney for Layton & Associates, said in his opening statement that the Layton shirts make a clear distinction by carrying the phrase "M.R. Decoys."