Trademarking Hodag Leaves Questions For Common Council

Oct 29, 2019

The Hodag in front of the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce
Credit WXPR

It appears Rhinelander is going to do what it can to preserve the Hodag trademark, but it might be difficult to keep all of it.

An undisclosed city in Michigan would like to host a Hodag Festival built around the idea of the mythical beast invented by Rhinelander's Gene Shepard and displayed at the Oneida County Fair more than 100 years ago.

Rhinelander Chamber Executive Director Lauren Sackett says the Chamber has some trademarks already in place and their board has made a commitment to protecting the brand...

"...The Chamber holds the trademark on the current version of the Hodag. The Chamber board voted this past Wednesday to pursue further trademarking at the Chamber's legal expense. Rather than the city doing it, the Chamber would move forward protecting that property for the community...."

But City Attorney Steve Sorenson, who has some expertise in this area, said a search he did revealed some other facts. He says the trademark is registered with Wisconsin through Downtown Rhinelander, Inc.

But Sorenson says the Hodag is not nationally registered and already has been used in a variety of intellectual property places. "The problem your going to have is, even if you trademark the symbol, the history, you're going to face a situation where it has been used, and a prior user of the trademarked symbol is going to be able to continue to use that symbol. So the (School District of Rhinelander) is not going to be out of being able to use the trademark. I'm just telling you, because we did do the research, it's not cheap..."

Sorenson says the national trademark has much more clout than the state trademark.

City Administrator Daniel Guild says someone locally contacted the Michigan city that Rhinelander was trying to strengthen it's trademark.

The common council went along with a motion from alder David Holt to have Guild try to work out a friendly arrangement with the undisclosed Michigan community regarding it's celebration rather than set up an adversarial position.