Kentucky Mist Moonshine, a tiny distillery in Whitesburg, says it's been called out by the University of Kentucky for improper use of one of UK's trademarks ... the word "Kentucky."
As first reported by the Mountain Eagle newspaper in Whitesburg, Kentucky Mist co-owner Colin Fultz said he received a letter from one of UK's contract attorneys, Michael Hargis of King & Schickli, shortly after the company tried to trademark its clothing line. The letter said UK has trademarked "Kentucky" since 1997.
"It is our present position that Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.'s use of the mark KENTUCKY MIST MOONSHINE to identify articles of clothing is likely to cause deception, confusion and mistake as to Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.'s affiliation, connection or association with the university," the letter said.
If Fultz does not agree, UK will "consider further action as it deems necessary."
The Kentucky Mist Moonshine logo is swirling cursive with nothing that resembles any of UK's logos.
"What they're saying is crazy; all I'm using is the name Kentucky," Fultz said Wednesday in a phone interview. "The only thing that we trademark was Kentucky Mist Moonshine ... we just wanted to sell our own shirts."
Jason Schlafer, UK's director of trademark licensing, said the problem is that Kentucky Mist Moonshine is trying to register with the Federal Trademark Registry in the same category, Class 25, in which UK is registered. This category includes shirts and sweatshirts.
"It's the registration in Class 25 that we object to," Schlafer said. "It is the obligation of a trademark owner to monitor the registry and ensure that marks that could dilute your registered mark don't register."
Recently UK also sent a warning letter to a man in Ohio who wanted to register T-shirts that said "Kentucky Against the World."
The letter also asks the company to continue its current behavior in not making anyone think its products are produced by or part of UK. Schlafer said UK does not object to the word "Kentucky" in the company's name, only its attempt to trademark its T-shirts.
"They've done nothing to make anyone feel that we're related, and we ask them to continue to behave that way," Schlafer said. "It's not that we want to control how people behave ... we can certainly coexist; we're not asking them to stop doing anything other than register a potentially confusing mark in the same category that we have a trademark registered in."
Fultz said he has to talk to his attorney, "but I won't let UK decide how I register; it won't have anything to do with what UK says."
Kentucky Mist Distillery is in a renovated warehouse in downtown Whitesburg, currently employing about five people. The company makes moonshine in mason jars, infused with real fruit. The blackberry flavor, Fultz said, came from blackberries picked in Letcher County.