MPR affiliate invites company to "gather" at the federal courthouse

Categories: Business

Chris Dykstra was initially amused when he learned last summer that the web site that he runs, Gatheroo.com, was being threatened with a lawsuit for trademark infringement. Gatheroo was created by Minnetonka-based software company Warecorp after the popular online networking site, meetup.com, began charging for its services.

But Dykstra is no longer amused. Earlier this month Warecorp was sued in U.S. District Court by Gather, a Boston-based company affiliated with Minnesota Public Radio. The lawsuit alleges that Warecorp is improperly infringing on the company's trademark and engaging in unfair business practices. Gather is seeking an injunction barring Warecorp from using the Gatheroo name, as well as monetary damages.

Warecorp is not backing down. The company has posted a lengthy rebuttal to the lawsuit on the Gatheroo web site. Dykstra believes that the legal threat is just an attempt by MPR to bully the smaller company. "Obviously they have a really serious bankroll and are willing to push and shove anyone out of the way with money," he says. "Their claim that we created our company when we heard about Gather is just completely ridiculous on its face."

Dykstra further argues that Gather's claim that the two companies are direct competitors is spurious. "We're in entirely different businesses," he says. "We both own web sites, but that's where it ends."

Gather runs a social-networking web site aimed at public radio listeners, sort of a myspace.com for the middle class, 40-something set. The chairman and co-founder of the company is William Kling, president of MPR.

Gatheroo has not yet responded to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Massachusetts, where Gather is based. But Dykstra says that the company intends to argue that the court doesn't have standing to hear the case. "Warecorp doesn't do a lick of business in Massachusetts," he notes.

This is not the first time in recent memory that MPR has flexed its legal muscles. In October, the nonprofit group sued Current TV, the cable station founded by former vice president Al Gore, for allegedly appropriating the name of its alt-rock station the Current (KCMP-89.3). The case is currently pending in U.S. District Court.

Similarly, in March, 2005 the radio conglomerate sued a Florida television program called "Ethical Marketplace" for allegedly infringing on the trademark for MPR's nationally syndicated busines program "Marketplace." That case was quickly dropped for reasons that are unclear.

And last year "A Prairie Home Companion" host Garrison Keillor threatened to sue the web site MNSpeak.com for selling t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "A Prairie Ho Companion."

Tom Gerace, Gather's chief executive officer, declines to comment about the specifics of the pending lawsuit, but he insists the company is merely protecting its assets. "We've invested significant resources in our brand and in our intellectual property," he says. "Any time you have a trademark of a service-mark you have an affirmative obligation to protect it."

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