Two festivals focused on celebrating pierogis and Polish culture, including Whiting's Pierogi Fest, are at the center of a federal case filed Monday in Pennsylvania over the names of the events.
Tom Dabertin, the chairman of Pierogi Fest in Whiting, said he just wants to protect Pierogi Fest's trademark
"If you don't protect your trademark when others use it, you lose it," he said. "We have to do this to protect our trademark."
But attorneys representing the Edwardsville Hometown Committee, which runs Edwardsville Pierogi Festival in Pennsylvania, argues it has not infringed on Pierogi Fest's trademark.
"What's important is we're protecting the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival and our right to call it by its name," said James Haggerty, one of the attorneys for the committee.
The suit was filed after the committee received two letters from the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, which runs Pierogi Fest, "threatening to sue the Hometown Committee for infringing on the federal trademark 'Pierogi Fest,' which the defendant owns," according to the complaint.
The first letter, dated May 13, 2015, claims that Edwardsville Pierogi Festival's "services directly compete with the Chamber's festival services" and "is likely to cause consumer confusion."
The chamber asked that the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival "cease all use of the infringing Pierogi Fest mark," according to the letter.
The second letter, dated June 9 of this year, makes the same claims and adds, "Importantly, your sponsors can be found liable for use of the trademark as well as touting the festival to your benefit."
"That said, the Chamber is open to discussing with you the opportunity for licensing of its trademark," the letter states. "...It is our hope that this matter can be resolved amicably. We will therefore refrain from filing a complaint in federal court in order to give you an opportunity to resolve this matter."
The 2017 letter was also sent to five sponsors of the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival, which Haggerty said has made some wary to participate next year.
In doing so, the complaint argues that the chamber "willfully and tortiously interfered with the Hometown Committee's relationship with sponsors" by "threatening them with liability for the claimed trademark infringement."
In the complaint, the committee asks for a judge to declare Edwardsville Hometown Committee has and not infringed the "Pierogi Fest" trademark, as well as award damages suffered by the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival and pay for all attorney fees in the case.
Every summer, when women young and old grab their headscarves, hair curlers and feather dusters and men don mismatched lawn mowing clothes in Whiting — there's a good chance that it's the annual Pierogi Fest
Both festivals describe themselves as nonprofits and run by volunteers to celebrate the Polish heritage in the communities they're held in with parades, vendors and games.
Edwardsville Pierogi Festival has been held since 2014 in Edwardsville, Pa., a borough of less than 5,000 people, according to the complaint.
"They get a few thousand people come to the festival, and they raise a few thousand dollars," Haggerty said, giving proceeds to buy teddy bears to the Edwardsville Police Department and to the annual Easter egg hunt.
Pierogi Fest has been held for 23 years in Whiting, a town of similar size, draws almost 300,000 people, according to the fest's website.
The complaint argues its "absurd" to claim that the Festival "directly competes" with Whiting.
"There's no person on planet Earth that is confused by this," Haggerty said.
Dabertin said he others with Pierogi Fest are just following the protocol that they have in the past when they've encountered other similar festivals in "protecting our integrity" and the reputation Pierogi Fest has.
"We have allowed others to use (the trademark), but they always got our permission," Dabertin said.
Dabertin said he previously reached out to an Edwardsville committee member to try to resolve the matter, and he said he's still open to doing so.
"We're not looking to make thousands of dollars off of this," he said.
But with the trademark, Dabertin said, "We want to protect the name, and we should."