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Wisconsin’s new slogan draws criticism

Written by editor

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s new state slogan is already inspiring something, but it’s not exactly unanimous praise.

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s new state slogan is already inspiring something, but it’s not exactly unanimous praise.

Gov. Jim Doyle said Monday the state will use “Live like you mean it” to promote Wisconsin as a tourism and business destination, replacing the slogan “Life’s So Good.”

But motivational speakers, authors and even wine and spirit maker Bacardi have already used the phrase in marketing campaigns. Some critics who aren’t thrilled the state is adopting their slogan may oppose its attempt to get federal trademark protections on it or even take legal action.

“They are not going to get a federal trademark. I just wanted to let them know that,” said Ellyn Luros-Elson, a Napa, Calif., dietitian who is co-author of a 2006 book by that name. “It doesn’t make sense the state is going to use something they know has already been put out there.”

The state’s brand manager, Sarah Klavas, said the Department of Tourism thoroughly vetted the phrase before introducing it and is confident there will be no trademark infringement.

She said the state applied for a trademark with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office and is awaiting approval. A legal review, which included hiring an outside firm, turned up no problems and she noted that multiple entities can use the same phrase as long as they are promoting different items.

“We have certainly done our due diligence to be sure that we could use this,” she said.

The Department of Tourism plans to use the new phrase in advertising campaigns and is encouraging other state agencies to follow suit.

“This is another tool we’ll use to keep loyal visitors coming back, communicate why a business should relocate or expand here, and let talented employees know why they should choose Wisconsin,” Doyle said.

Coming up with the slogan and accompanying logo — which shows a silhouetted figure doing a cartwheel across letters spelling out Wisconsin — cost $50,000, Klavas said. The money came from the department’s annual $10 million marketing budget.

University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor Anuj Desai said he doubted the state would have legal problems. As long as there is no risk that consumers will confuse the state’s marketing with someone else’s, the likelihood of problems is low, he said.

But given the term’s widespread use, UW-Madison professor Thomas O’Guinn said he was surprised the state was seeking trademark protection. O’Guinn, director of the school’s Center for Brand and Product Management, said a quick Internet search revealed broad use in the public domain.

At least five trademarks covering the term’s use are active, according to a U.S. Trademark and Patent Office database. Companies are using the term to promote real estate, clothing, and other merchandise; one headed by retired NFL great Bill Romanowski deploys it to market dietary supplements and energy bars.

Bacardi dropped the trademark in 2008, records show, after using the term in its print, television and in-store advertising for years. The company has no plans to bring back the slogan and does not oppose Wisconsin’s use, said spokesman Joe Gerbino.

Others who use the term say it’s premature to talk about potential legal action but aren’t ruling it out.

Todd Stockwell, a lawyer in Lexington, Ky., registered the phrase as a trademark in 2007 for a local real estate developer who sells condominiums and student housing. He said he would “absolutely” be reviewing the state’s plans.

“I’m sure we’ll look and see how they are going to use the mark and go from there,” he said. “It’s too early to say whether there would be any problems.”

That’s also the position of Beverly Sastri, of North Haven, Conn., a personal development trainer who uses the term as the title of her program.

“If the state’s use of the term begins to overshadow mine, there would be some decisions to make,” said Sastri. “But it’s way too soon to think of it in those terms. And can one fight an entire state? I wonder about that.”

Sastri said she was planning to release an audio CD and a book using the slogan, and hopes the state didn’t knock her products “right off the map.”

Otherwise, she said the state should consider making her its official personal development trainer.