Tillamook Cheese Claims Ownership Of Bandon

bandon cheese factory

The Bandon Cheese Factory after being purchased by Tillamook

As has been widely circulated over the last few weeks, Tillamook Cheese has been making certain claims regarding their ownership of the word "Bandon," which the company maintains they have registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Tillamook Cheese purchased Bandon Cheese in 2000. After operating the factory for a short period, Tillamook Cheese closed the cheese production facility here, and eliminated an estimated total of 9 jobs. The old cheese factory is now just a retail outlet. (They have since torn the place down, leaving a vacant lot.)

The City was initially made aware of these trademark claims through a November 12, 2003 letter sent to Bandon Coastal Ventures, LLC, which owns and operates several vacation rental units here. In that letter, Tillamook Cheese expressed their concern that consumers may be confused, since both businesses were using "Bandon" in their name. In a subsequent November 28, 2003 letter to Bandon's Kettle Korn, a company which makes and distributes Kettle Korn here, Tillamook Cheese states "We feel there needs to be a content change in the appearance of your business name to consumers and to your label so there is no confusion." The City contacted Tillamook Cheese, but to date the company has not provided a satisfactory answer to the City's inquiries regarding their claim.

To provide some accurate information regarding patent and trademark law, the City hired local attorney Robin Miller, who has significant expertise in this area. Mr. Miller was asked to research the matter, and prepare sufficient background information so the City Council could have a factual basis for determining if there is an appropriate role for the City in the matter of Tillamook Cheese's claims regarding the use of the word "Bandon." Those findings were presented and discussed at the December 8th City Council meeting. Mr. Miller determined that Tillamook Cheese had registered three related federal trademarks, including the word "Bandon's," a depiction of the Coquille River Lighthouse, and another depiction of the Lighthouse surrounded on the top and bottom by scroll designs.

He determined that the "Bandon's" trademark was a "weak" mark, since it was merely geographically descriptive, so it was unlikely to cause any problems for anyone using the name. He felt their claims regarding the lighthouse mark, however, might be considered "strong," so that may or may not become a problem for certain businesses, depending on the type of products offered. He suggested that individual businesses should contact their own legal counsel if they felt concerned with the Tillamook Cheese claims. Since the original trademark applications were made in 2000, and since uncontested trademarks are considered "incontestable" after five years, anyone challenging the Tillamook trademarks would have a little over one more year to make such a challenge.

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Background On The Bandon Name Issue
Why Cheese Is Not Made In Bandon
Bandon Cheese Factory Opens 1927, Closes 2002
Tillamook Closes Bandon Cheese Store
Something's Rotten In Tillamook

Mr. Miller determined that Tillamook Cheese may actually have their own problems regarding their Bandon trademark registrations. Their first major problem could be the fact that it appears their applications claimed use of the marks since 1935. Certain historical evidence suggests that the marks may have actually come in to use significantly later than that. Another potential challenge is Tillamook Cheese's use of the geographic name Bandon, when, in fact, none of their cheese is actually produced in, or anywhere near, Bandon.

After discussing the matter, the City Council directed staff to secure copies of the original trademark applications submitted by Tillamook Cheese/Bandon Cheese, and to then send a letter to the County Attorney requesting a determination as to whether there have been any violations of law by Tillamook Cheese regarding their statements on the trademark applications that the mark has been in use since 1935, or with respect to marketing "Bandon" or "Bandon's" products which are not produced in Bandon. The Council also directed staff to proceed with securing a state trademark for the City of Bandon Lighthouse Logo, which is used on the City seal, stationary, pins, and other official municipal items.


City of Bandon

City Manager's Newsletter

December 12, 2003

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