Battle over Malibu Pier trademark clouds reopening

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An Agoura resident claims he owns the trademark to the Malibu Pier. The state is working to prove it has the right to use the name.

By Sara Rosner / Special to The Malibu Times

Adding to problems resulting in continual delays of the reopening of the Malibu Pier, the California Department of Parks and Recreation is engaged in a legal battle with an Agoura man over the Malibu Pier’s trademark.

The conflict arose when Agoura resident Stephen Harper claimed the name Malibu Pier as his intellectual property. If Harper wins the battle, concessions and other businesses, as well as the state, might not be able to use the name Malibu Pier, without paying for it.

In an e-mail on the behalf of her client, Harper’s attorney, Cris Armenta, wrote that the United States Patent and Trade Office rejected State Parks attempts to register the Malibu Pier trademark because the state’s proposed use of the trademark would not qualify for trademark protection. State Parks’ attorney Laura Reimche said, through a spokesperson, that she has not heard that the state’s application had been rejected. And, even if it was, she said there is separate litigation that is going forward and she is confident, “we will resolve this issue in the federal litigation.”

State Parks is suing Harper for alleged trademark infringement.

Harper has subsequently filed counterclaims against the state for allegedly committing fraud when it tried to gain trademark protection for the Malibu Pier. Armenta wrote in the e-mail that Harper “intends to prove that he conceived and began merchandising the trademark Malibu Pier long before the Department of Parks and Recreation demonstrated any interest in doing so …”

The trial is set for some time in July of next year.

Despite the conflict, Malibu Pier Partners, LLC has signed a 20-year agreement to lease the pier from the state and is moving forward with plans to develop the interiors of the pier buildings.

Pier Operations Manager Jefferson Wagner, a partner of Malibu Pier Partners, already has Malibu Pier T-shirts for sale and expressed some frustration with the trademark matter.

“He [Harper] has no right to be on the pier,” Wagner said. “There’s got to be some common sense among these Internet poachers.”

When asked about what Malibu Pier Partners would do if the state lost the lawsuit to use the Malibu Pier trademark Wagner responded: “We would pursue that in court ourselves for further litigation. We’re not just going to let that go.”

Jefferson also said that the pier is scheduled to open in the summer of 2006 regardless of the litigation and its outcome.

“It will not delay us from going ahead,” he said.

Meanwhile, work continues on the pier.

State inspection to assess construction deficiencies of the interiors of the four structures will be conducted within the next 60 days.

Wagner said that the construction deficiencies were left after work was done on the pier from 2000 to 2003. Current repairs may include work on water and electrical systems and removal of old paint. He said that the repairs, which will cost less than $200,000, must be completed in order for the structures to meet the standards of current building codes. Malibu Pier Partners will split the cost of the repairs with the state.

Wagner said that state officials have been cooperative in preparing the pier for commerce.

“They’re not dragging their feet,” he said. “The state has been very fair.”

The State Parks Department also financed the repair of pier pilings that were damaged from large storms in 2004 and loosened by an overabundance of mussels attaching themselves to pier pilings. State Parks will give Malibu Pier Partners total control over the pier after the construction deficiencies are repaired.

Repairs are expected to be complete within three months after the state inspection. Malibu Pier Partners will then begin construction to restore the interior of the buildings to their original ’60s motif. Wagner said the décor was mandated by the state and that restoration may take up to six months to complete.

“We have to remain within the historical pier project [guidelines],” Wagner said. “It can’t become a Disneyland.”

The Malibu Pier is expected to open in the summer of 2006 and amenities will include restaurants, a Malibu surfing museum, a beach equipment rental business and several retail vendors. Wagner said that the vendors would be chosen next spring through a bidding process.

“You should be able to take the kids and buy a burger, go fishing or rent a boat. It will be an outdoor experience without getting too into it,” Wagner said.

Though opening the pier has been a complicated process, Wagner is optimistic about the pier’s future. “I’m being as patient as the public. I just want to see this project completed by 2006.”