After taking last weekend off to celebrate and subsequently recover from my 31st birthday (I know you missed me), I now triumphantly return with an anecdote from the city in which I currently reside, St. Louis, Missouri. Home of Budweiser, the Cardinals, and apparently a disgustingly filthy hotel.
As some of you familiar with the St. Louis metropolitan area know, we have a Six Flags amusement park located about 30 miles from downtown St. Louis in a small town called Eureka. About a mile from the park is a Days Inn hotel which, of course, is a great location for visitors from out of town who wish to spend the night after a fun-filled day waiting an hour in line to ride a 45 second roller coaster and eating greasy overpriced funnel cakes. Well, that is if you don’t mind sleeping in a hotel that was ranked this past January as the second dirtiest hotel in America by the travel review site TripAdvisor. I mean, when you consider how many sleazy, rundown flophouses there are all across the United States, such distinction is really amazing. We’ll proudly put this honor right next to our #2 ranking in the 2008 list of most dangerous American cities. We truly are the Show-Me State!
So, what does all this have to with trademarks? Well, TripAdvisor’s story caught the attention of Six Flags and, as a result, it became aware that Days Inn Eureka was actually billing itself as “Days Inn Six Flags” on its website and other marketing materials. Furthermore, the hotel operated its website at www.daysinn6flags.com. Needless to say, Six Flags was none too happy with its extremely well-known and valuable trademark being associated with a roach motel and, according to articles published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch and St. Louis Business Journal, Six Flags promptly sued Days Inn for trademark infringement and deceptive advertising. A few days later, Days Inn Eureka took down its website and it has yet to be replaced.
Unquestionably, Days Inn Eureka can advertise itself as being “close to Six Flags,” “one mile from Six Flags,” “within walking distance from Six Flags,” or even “a great place to stay if you’re visiting Six Flags.” But, it most certainly cannot use the SIX FLAGS trademark in a manner that would likely confuse consumers into believing that there is an association or affiliation between the hotel and the amusement park, or that Six Flags somehow sponsors or endorses Days Inn Eureka. In addition, Days Inn Eureka did not have the right to register and use a domain name that incorporates “6 FLAGS” even though the hotel is basically located next to the park. Clearly, Days Inn Eureka was attempting to optimize its website and increase its visibility in the search engine rankings through the impermissible use of Six Flags’ trademark so that people searching for accommodations near Six Flags would come across the website.
Having said that, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that Six Flags did not know about this unauthorized use prior to the TripAdvisor article. More likely than not, Six Flags didn’t really care too much about such use until the negative press kind of forced Six Flags to take some action to protect its reputation as providing clean, safe, and family-oriented theme parks. Had the housekeeping staff at Days Inn Eureka simply used a little Lysol once in a while, I probably would be writing about something completely different today.