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County moving forward trademarking seal

by EMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | March 30, 2023 1:00 AM

BONNERS FERRY — Boundary County Commissioners will proceed with trademarking the county seal providing the Idaho Secretary of State office allows it.

At the March 20 commissioner meeting when the decision was made, Commissioner Ben Robertson said the decision to trademark the county seal was not an attempt to prevent the blog and social media site Boundary County Watchman from reporting facts, rather it is to not allow anyone without permission to use the county seal to represent another entity other than the county.

The county seal was adopted in 1989, but was never trademarked.

In January, the BCW received a cease and desist from the county, due to using the county’s seal as the Watchman’s on social media pages and YouTube channel.

Adrienne Norris with BCW, argued she is using the county “flag” and was “waving it as a citizen who’s proud of my county and I just want to see transparency.”

However, Boundary County Chief Deputy Prosecutor and County Attorney Tevis Hull said the group’s use is not a proper use of the county seal. He noted that the county does not have a “flag” on file, adding that Norris is using the county seal.

Norris has said that if she is “at fault,” BCW will stop using the seal. She then reversed that position, stating that by not allowing BCW to use the seal, the county is infringing on her First Amendment rights. She claimed the county has no grounds to trademark the seal.

Hull said he prepared the cease and desist letter, saying by BCW using the seal, Norris is giving the impression to viewers that the site and statements on the site are endorsed and supported by the county.

The chief deputy prosecuting attorney said Norris’ claims she has disclaimer on the sites indicating the group is made of private citizens, Hull said people don’t typically read disclaimers. And while there might be a disclaimer, Hull said the group’s use still is an improper use.

Hull said after reading Idaho Code and information provided by the Idaho Secretary of State’s site, the county doesn’t need to trademark the seal, but by doing so, add another level to protect the trademark and seal for the county.

If the county seal does become a trademark, then trademark infringement would apply to anyone using it without proper clearance. Trademark infringement is prosecuted under civil laws, but is not a criminal act, rocketlawyer.com said. Instead, lawsuits over trademark infringement usually require an individual to stop using the trademark. Additionally they may have to return any profits made off the infringing use, or pay money damages for the use of the trademark.

From the Idaho Secretary of State’s website a trademark/ service trademark is defined as “a word, name, symbol or device or any combination thereof used by a person, company or partnership to identify and distinguish services or goods, including a unique product or service.”

Before an image can be trademarked, it must first be used in commerce before registering it with the Secretary of State’s Trademark section. The county should meet this requirement, since the county seal has been used on documents and to represent the county since 1989.

There is no prescribed length of time that the mark must be used in Idaho before you can register it. You must be currently using the mark in order to register it, the Idaho Secretary of State website said.

Registration is accomplished by filing a completed Application for Trademark or Service Mark Registration. The county would have to provide a specimen of the mark and a $30 filing fee.

More information on trademarking in Idaho can be found at TITLE 48 MONOPOLIES AND TRADE PRACTICES, CHAPTER 5 REGISTRATION AND PROTECTION OF TRADEMARKS.