Short Version = Laywers
Long Version Follows…
A few days before our first-year event in February of 2023, which was called the “Florida Vanlife Gathering”, as we were making our way up to Withlacoochee River Park to set up for the gathering, Vanlife Diaries, based in Australia, sent us a message on social media that said they owned the rights and trademark for “Vanlife” as it relates to gatherings. A “class 41” trademark it was.
They were nice about it and reached out directly to us before getting lawyers involved, but we were pretty freaked out since we were literally setting up for the event when they sent us this message. By then, we had the name on all of our signs, thousands of handouts, etc. and there were hundreds of tickets in the hands of attendees who were on their way to the park! We asked if we could proceed without changing the name and pay them a licensing fee with assurances we would change the name for future events and they agreed to that.
You can have your own feelings about the legal fact an Australian company “owns” the phrase “Vanlife” for events and we imagine it’s even possible that you, yourself, dear reader, have used those words without knowing you were infringing on the rights of a private company but, now you know…
Honestly, the original name was pretty generic. Meanwhile, what actually happened over that weekend was anything but generic! It was magic. We created a kind of utopian van village with hundreds of awesome van friends coming together in community, enjoying great food, great music, workshops, yoga and more. It was an amazing weekend and the feedback from attendees and exhibitors was almost entirely positive which was incredibly heartening and rewarding for our first year!
So, we set off to find a new name that would better reflect the nature of the gathering and keep the lawyers away. When we came up with “name number two which we are not allowed to use but may or not rhyme with utopia”, we searched extensively to see if anyone else used that word, or similar words for events that one might characterize as a “what-is-another-name-for-a-vanlife gathering”. No such eventy things surfaced on the internets or the trademark database and so, the name was chosen and work began on our updated logo, website, and other materials. Given the panic we experienced about the “other” trademark, we thought it would be prudent to trademark “illegal name” in hopes that we wouldn’t go down a similar road. So, we hired someone from LegalZoom to get ‘er done. We were told it would take an outrageous amount of time and commenced to waiting.
Cue the ominous music.
On June 26th, the attorney for Vantopia Vans sent us (and our poor, LegalZoom attorney) a letter that basically said we couldn’t use our newer name and that “Vantopia Vans is and has been engaged in the development, manufacture, and sale of products and services for van life consumers and enthusiasts, and has built a successful business in connection therewith. Since at least as early as April of 2021 our client has continuously used VANTOPIA as a mark, and as a component of marks, in connection with its goods and services.”
The LegalZoom attorney quit on the spot. This was not that surprising.
Then the letter went on to get weirdly specific about states: “Vantopia Vans has extensively promoted its VANTOPIA brand across various social media channels. In one social media platform, for example, Vantopia Vans has had tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of impressions in states including, but not limited to, California, Florida, Texas, New York, Colorado, Washington, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon. In that same social media platform, Vantopia Vans has had thousands of impressions in every state of the nation. Additionally, Vantopia Vans has garnered a strong customer base for its products and services across the nation including in, for example, California, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, West Virginia, Washington, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and North Carolina.”
Where you at South Carolina? Still with us Montana? Anyway, we digress…
Right before they told us their list of “demands” the letter goes on to say “Given that our clients mark—VANTOPIA—is identical to the mark your client seeks to register— VANTOPIA—and that the consumers, channels of trade, and goods/services are the same or largely overlap, it is inevitable that your client’s use of VANTOPIA will cause confusion in the marketplace.”
I don’t know about you but, if I was a customer or potential customer of Vantopia Vans, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled at the assertion that I couldn’t tell the difference between an event once a year in Florida and a company selling van conversions and parts from California. But, of course, I am not a lawyer.
Anyway, the last thing we want to be associated with our name-challenged event is a fight. After all, we’re promoting peace, love and vans. So, you know, the dudes abide and we changed the name to exactly that: Peace Love & Vans. This time at a significant cost, since we no longer trusted our own perspective on what might be “confusing to the marketplace” and had to hire (yet another) lawyer to “bless” the third name.
So, there you go. We hope you like the new name! But, honestly, at this point, we know the event is going to be awesome no matter what we call it, but the name, well, it must keep the lawyers at bay.
P.S.: If you’re a lawyer or a business that “owns” words, and you think we shouldn’t use this name, please let us know soon – before we start printing signs and stuff.