Card King Trumps GRACC

February 21, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the king hasn’t traded his old-fashioned, straight-handle two-wheeler for a sleek and modern SUV, he still might rule the road between Grand Rapids and Wayland Township.

This bicycle-mounted king looks a lot like one that has been featured on the joker card in every deck of Bicycle Playing Cards for the better part of a century, all the way down to the spades found on his shoulder ruffles and the old-style lettering that hovers above his crown.

But the Community Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG), a coalition put together by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to oppose a proposed casino for Wayland Township, added a circle, a slash and the motto “Another Casino is a Bad Bet” to the royal rider last week and crowned him as the focal point of a logo it used on press materials.

Apparently that’s not how royalty should be treated, however, because the United States Playing Card Co. (USPC) said the bicycle-riding monarch is a registered trademark and that no one from CPEG asked USPC if it could use the ruler to advance their anti-gaming cause.

“Not at all. I was never contacted. I’m the person who would have given permission,” said Joseph Robinette, in-house counsel for USPC, last week.

“I would obviously not have given permission for a use that would have disparaged our trademark,” he added.

Robinette told the Business Journal Thursday that he called the region’s largest business group about using the Bicycle joker, but hadn’t received a return phone call. The chamber was listed in the public release, along with Wondergem Consulting, as a contact for CPEG.

“They’re going to get a cease-and-desist letter from me or from my outside counsel people. Hopefully, I can have a reasonable discussion with them and avoid that if they acknowledge the issue through a phone call and resolve it that way,” he said.

“Otherwise, they’re going to get a letter.”

Chamber President John Brown confirmed Thursday that Robinette had placed the call. He said he hadn’t found the time to return it, but planned to.

“To me, it’s a non-issue because we don’t intend to use it again. The bottom line is I haven’t had a chance to return the fellow’s call,” said Brown.

Brown said that the logo was developed solely for the press conference held last week, when CPEG made its opposition to the casino official, and the chamber thought the joker was a public figure.

“As I mentioned at the press conference, we thanked our friends at Hanon McKendry for having developed the logo for the meeting, and they, too, viewed it as it was something in the public domain and was an original work that they had performed,” he said. He added there was no intent by CPEG to compete with or represent USPC in any manner.

USPC has manufactured playing cards since 1867. The privately owned company, based in Cincinnati, markets its cards under four brands — Bee, Hoyle, Aviator and Bicycle — and some of its biggest clients are casino owners.

“We sell to almost every major casino in the world, and Potawatomi is one of the casinos we sell to,” said Rachelle Oltean, USPC executive administrative assistant.

The Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians wants to build the casino that CPEG is trying to stop. Oltean said using the firm’s joker in an anti-gaming crusade is a message that USPC doesn’t embrace.

“Any printed materials with the joker on it must be destroyed. Period,” added Oltean. “It is a registered trademark and has been for many, many years. We are extremely diligent in protecting our copyright and trademark information.”           

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