State wins right to the name ‘Malibu Pier’ in unanimous decision

A jury in a Federal District Court trial agrees that the trademark and domain name Malibu Pier belongs to the state and people of California.

By Ward Lauren / Special to The Malibu Times

The right to the unquestioned use of the trademark “Malibu Pier” and domain name malibupier.com was awarded to California State Parks last week by a unanimous vote of the jury in a two-week trial in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The eight-member jury voted in favor of the state on every issue of law in the case in which Stephen Harper of Agoura Hills claimed he had sole authorized use of the name Malibu Pier.

Harper claimed that the name was his intellectual property by virtue of a trademark filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. State Parks sued Harper for alleged trademark infringement.

Jefferson Wagner, owner of Zuma Jay surf shop and manager of the pier for many years, gave two full days of extensive testimony on behalf of the state. He was the only member of Malibu Pier Partners, LLC, current concession managers of the pier, called to testify in the case.

“After years of question about the ownership of the name, which never should have happened,” he said, “the jury came to the right decision: That the image of the pier indeed belongs to the state and the people of California.”

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As to the immediate effect of the decision, he said, “Now I can start selling garments, with the pier logo, on the pier-on a cart or in a store. I’m going to configure a cart in the next couple of weeks, something like they have in Santa Monica on the Promenade. It’ll be neat to be able to sell the pier’s image on the pier itself. About time!”

The trial attorney on the case, Richard Sybert of the law firm Gordon and Rees, called Wagner the minute the decision came out, Wagner said, to congratulate him. Sybert said the jury told him after the trial that Wagner’s testimony was one of the strongest in support of the trademark staying with the state.

The defendant in the case, Harper, registered the domain names in 1999 when a massive restoration project for the pier was announced, said Roy Stearns, State Parks deputy director of communications. After being turned down by Malibu Pier Partners for what he termed a “marketing alliance” in 2003, Harper tried to register “Malibu Pier” as a federal trademark, but was unsuccessful, Stearns said. Both “Malibu Pier” and “Malibu Sportfishing Pier” have since been registered to the State Parks Department as California state trademarks, Stearns said.

Sybert argued to the jury that Harper had produced no evidence to support his claim that he had produced or sold “Malibu Pier” shirts or hats or that he had first rights to the mark for clothing.

“I think Mr. Harper saw an opportunity to take advantage,” Sybert said. “He doesn’t understand that California’s history is not for sale. Now there has been a verdict and the defendant has filed a couple of motions to try to overturn it. I hope they are not successful and I don’t think they will be, but that’s the judge’s prerogative, not mine.”

Cris Armenta, attorney for Harper along with co-counsel George W. Finch, said they have filed a motion for a mistrial, “based on the judge’s recommendation after the Department of Parks and Recreation brought surprise evidence into court at the last minute. That motion is pending.

“There is also to be filed a motion for a judgment, notwithstanding the verdict, essentially to set aside the jury’s verdict,” she said. “And if those motions are denied, then we will appeal the matter with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, also testified in the trial.

“I’m extremely gratified that we have set a precedent for the entire State Park system in establishing that these famous names belong to the people of California,” she said. “They’re not available to someone who comes along and decides to use them for their own profit.”

Staff Attorney Laura Reimche, who managed the case for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said, “Malibu Pier is a wonderful symbol of the whole Southern California beach culture. We have a duty to future generations to protect and preserve it.”

The Malibu Pier was built in 1905 and is a designated California Point of Historical Interest. It is part of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. The state acquired the pier in 1980 from private owners. The current restoration project, costing more than $6 million, has the goal to restore the pier to its glory as an icon in the Golden Age of Hollywood, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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