Judge rules

JUNEAU, Alaska — The bright blue, gold and green “Alaska Grown” logo is the property of the state of Alaska and not of the regional farm bureau that tried to claim it, a superior court judge has ruled.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith decided in summary judgment that the Alaska Division of Agriculture and not the Matanuska Susitna Chapter Alaska Farm Bureau owns the licensing rights for the logo.

“It was an important case from the standpoint of the state protecting an asset which is used statewide,” said Assistant Attorney General Steve Ross.

About 340 companies use the logo, mostly on produce certified as having been grown in Alaska. The circular design features a blue field surrounding the outline of the state of Alaska, which is colored green. Over the top of the design are the words “Alaska GROWN,” in gold type.

The dispute arose in 2004 when the Mat-Su chapter sought exclusive rights from the agriculture division to use the logo on promotional clothing. The chapter claimed it had acquired the rights from using the logo on apparel, like T-shirts, sweat shirts and hats, for over 20 years.

The group’s predecessor, the Alaska Farmers and Stockgrowers Association, was the first to get state permission to use the label, according to state records.

The state, meanwhile, said the agriculture division created the logo in 1986 and has spent several hundred thousand dollars promoting it. The state already has three trademarks on the design registered with the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The Mat-Su group claimed the state was not properly protecting use of the logo and filed for a federal trademark on the logo in 2005. That prompted the state’s lawsuit.

The state also terminated the group’s right to use the logo. Efforts to reach a settlement failed in 2006 and, last August, the state had an injunction placed on group’s profits from sales.

The Mat-Su group has said profits from the clothing sales amount to about $40,000 a year and are the group’s main source of funding. The funding goes to support agriculture and agricultural causes, according to members.

Oral arguments were heard Dec. 26 in the contentious dispute. In last Friday’s ruling, Judge Smith slapped an injunction on the defendants forbidding them from “threatening, intimidating, harassing, coercing, or otherwise interfering with the sale of Alaska Grown apparel.”

Chapter President Rob Wells declined to comment on the case, describing the injunction as tantamount to a gag order.

“I find it unusual and surprising but my understanding is, yes, I can’t talk about it,” said Wells.

The group’s attorney, Michael Jungreis, also declined to comment saying he preferred to “err on the side of caution.”

Ross said the state requested the injunction after chapter Executive Director Karen Olson accused Alaska Future Farmers of America of stealing sales from the Mat-Su organization by also selling clothing with the logo.

Ross provided The Associated Press with copies of letters Olson sent to the University of Alaska and to the National Future Farmers of America.

“This is what the Alaska FFA is teaching: Don’t start a business; steal one. Don’t support farmers’ efforts to manage their own affairs; instead side with total government control,” wrote Olson in a letter to National FFA Adviser Larry Case.

Olson could not be reached for comment.

Ross said the letter was an attempt to interfere with the FFA’s authorized sale of “Alaska Grown” apparel.

A trial set for May will determine damages the state may claim from the Mat-Su chapter.

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