Trademark for the V&T: a locomotive-size problem

VIRGINIA CITY - For more than 40 years, the Curtis family has owned the Virginia & Truckee Railway.

But they don't operate a railroad.

The family registered for the corporate name, looking forward to the day when they could cash in on it by way of merchandising.

And their long wait is nearing its end because the momentum of the historic railway's reconstruction could have a steam locomotive barreling into Carson City by 2009.

Joe Curtis, who inherited the Virginia & Truckee Railway corporation name from his parents, also owns the Virginia & Truckee Railway state trademark, which he filed for in 2003. He has registered for a federal trademark, but the application is still in process, according to federal documents.

Curtis said he wants to make sure his intellectual property is safe - and that includes keeping it from being used without permission, even by those who are rebuilding the railroad.

He appeared at Monday's Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway to argue his case: The name belongs to him and the commission needs to ask his permission - and possibly pay a fee - to use it on the reconstructed rail. The commission was set up by the state to oversee the construction of the tourist track.

"Those things were incorporated years ago with the vision in mind that they someday would have value," Curtis said. "I want to market the name and sell souvenirs."

He compared the commission's use of the V&T name to a neighbor borrowing his garden hose without first asking for it.

"My intention and philosophy is that we have to get this railroad going," Curtis said. "But at the same time I don't want to be abused and I want my garden hose back."

He has no desire to go to court over this issue, but he's firm that the commission should negotiate with him, or call the reconstructed track something different.

A corporation search at Nevada Secretary of State's Web site for "Virginia & Truckee" brings up 13 responses - most of which are in some way connected to the historic railway.

A similar search for "V&T" brings back 302 results - most of which are not connected to the Virginia & Truckee Railway tourist track.

One of those is the "V&T Railway" owned by Kevin Ray, coordinator for the V&T commission.

On Nov. 17, 2003, Ray incorporated the name in the state. Ray said he did this so that he could give the name to the commission for its use. Curtis contends V&T is the same as Virginia & Truckee.

Ray said there is a difference.

"It can stand for Vinny & Tom," said Ray. "Yes, it stands for Virginia & Truckee, but the secretary of state defines distinguishing names as initials distinct from words."

Lara Pearson, an Incline Village attorney who specializes in intellectual property, said Curtis' argument that "Virginia & Truckee Railway" can only be used by him is flawed.

"If he has a Virginia & Truckee Bookstore it isn't going to prevent the railway from using the name (Virginia & Truckee)," she said. "It will prevent the railway from opening a Virginia & Truckee Bookstore. But if he said the Virginia & Truckee Railway Bookstore he might have an issue, but still, the uses would be different."

She said ultimately the person who puts the trademark into use first is going to win a federal trademark dispute. That beats the "intent to use," which is what Curtis has filed under.

"You can't obtain registration without proving to the government through documented evidence that you are actually using the mark in interstate commerce," Pearson said.

Mike Rowe, general counsel to the V&T commission, said he was instructed by the commission to meet with Curtis and resolve the matter.

He said the commission will not rush to get a federal trademark for the V&T Railway, which has not been filed for yet. In 1996 an agreement was signed with Bob Gray, who owns the Virginia & Truckee Railroad tourist line that runs from Virginia City to Gold Hill, which stated that the commission can use his name for the reconstructed 18-mile line, Rowe said.

Gray is also in the process of getting his federal trademark for the railroad's name.

Curtis does operate one business, the Mark Twain Bookstore and Museum in Virginia City.

He's already had one tussle with a local businessman over his using the "Mark Twain Museum" name on a sign, which Curtis said confused his customers.

The issue between Curtis and John Schafer, owner of the Territorial Enterprise Museum, was amicably resolved.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.

V&T Railway

The rails for phase one of the reconstructed V&T Railway were recently completed. The $30 million tourist rail line will operate between Carson City and Virginia City. Officials hope to have the entire 18-mile length open for business by 2009.

Tourism and government officials promise it'll bring a $40 million boost during the construction phase, and $18 million annually after the railway is completed. A portion of that revenue will come from the sale of V&T souvenirs, which is what the Curtis family banked on 42 years ago.


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