Wildlife Group, NHL in Name Dispute

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OTTAWA (AP) — The NHL expansion Minnesota Wild don't play their first game until October. They are already in their first confrontation, however, and it's against an unlikely opponent — the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The federation says it is embroiled in a nasty trademark turf war although the league doesn't see it that way.

At issue is the federation's children's magazine, Wild, which it has published for the last five years and has held trademark rights on since last year.

The wildlife federation says the NHL and the Wild have demanded it give up the rights to the trademark so the team can use the name for its own marketing and promotion.

``It boggles my mind the arrogance they display,'' said Colin Maxwell, wildlife federation executive vice-president. ``Frankly, we'd like a little respect and we'd like a little courtesy.''

The NHL and the team have filed notice in Federal Court to appeal the federation's right to the trademark.

``Taking such extreme action before approaching us directly is like swatting a fly with a hammer,'' Maxwell said at a news conference Thursday.

But Mary Sotis, legal vice-president for NHL Enterprises, said the league had no choice but to file in Federal Court.

``The wildlife federation sought heightened protection of its trademark from the Canadian trademark office,'' she said. ``That gives parties who would be affected by that a deadline of a month or so later to file an appeal.

``That's the only reason why we did it and our intent was to work toward settlement.''

Maxwell said he was shocked last month when he first learned of the league's legal action.

He said he called Wild CEO Jac Sperling last week to try to resolve the issue but came away with only the perfunctory ``We'll get back to you.''

In a release issued late Thursday, the NHL said ``as recently as last week, discussions have led to potential terms of settlement.''

But Maxwell said nobody talked to him last week.

``There was no proposal for a settlement or discussion on settlement — there was no negotiation,'' he said.

The league says it, the Wild and the federation ``have been in discussions for several months.''

NHL teams share revenue from the sale of merchandise such as hats, T-shirts and jerseys.

Maxwell said the federation was willing to allow the team to use the word Wild on such items as long as it was preceded by the word Minnesota.

The team balked at the offer, he said.

Maxwell said the federation doesn't want to get into a protracted lawsuit it probably can't win.

``We don't have the resources and the huge PR department and legal department the NHL does,'' Maxwell said.

But the federation feels it has to defend its turf.

``It's not about hockey,'' he said. ``It's about a kid's magazine ... being told that if we pursue this, if we talk to the media, the gloves are coming off.

``We are still perfectly willing to sit down with officials with the Minnesota club and talk about a way that we can work together in both our interests.''

Maxwell said he would like an agreement where the two organizations share the name and strike a cross-promotion deal with the team doing a public service announcement for the federation, for example, in return for the use of its trademark name.

The NHL has been hoping for ``a framework for the league to be a supporter of the federation just as we support other charitable groups,'' NHL vice-president of communications Bernadette Mansur said, adding Thursday's comments from the federation came as a surprise.

``The announcement (today) doesn't seem to correspond with the dialogue we have been having,'' she said.

Wild magazine has 13,000 subscribers across the country. Maxwell said it's a vehicle for the charitable organization which promotes the protection of Canada's wild species and spaces, to reach out to children.

The 38-year-old non-profit wildlife federation represents 300,000 members and supporters and has an annual budget of about $10 million.