Earlier this week, Friendly Family Productions, LLC, the company that produced the television series Little House on the Prairie settled its lawsuit against a nonprofit corporation that operates a small museum outside Independence, Kansas. The museum is located at the site of the original house that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her book of the same title. Friendly Family Productions alleged that the museum infringed the trademark LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. According to complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the predecessor to Friendly Family Productions acquired rights to that trademark from the author’s descendants in 1974.
What got Friendly Family Productions all riled up (to use a term that Ms. Wilder would have been comfortable with) was the use of the trademark on merchandise that the museum sold, including the merchandise that it sold through a website with the domain name www.littlehouseontheprairie.com. Friendly Family Productions acknowledged that it had no quarrel with the museum using the words “little house on the prairie” to describe the homesite or the museum, because a purely descriptive use like that does not infringe a trademark. On the other hand, Friendly Family Productions had considerable quarrel with the museum putting those words on merchandise (caps, T-shirts, magnets, note cards, key chains, and other items typical of promotional merchandise) and selling them over the internet. Friendly Family Productions claimed that the use of those words implied that the merchandise came from the owner of the trademark, when it did not. That is, in a nutshell, the reason trademarks exist — to identify the source of the goods that bear the mark.
According to an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal and other sources, Friendly Family Productions originally offered to pay the museum $40,000 if it would stop using the trademark. The museum refused the offer, choosing instead to fight the lawsuit. The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential, but we know that the nonprofit corporation has changed its name from Little House on the Prairie, Inc. to the more descriptive Little House on the Prairie Museum, Inc., and www.littlehouseontheprairie.com is no longer active.
There’s no way to know how much the two-year litigation cost the parties.
By the way, the picture of a house on a prairie at the top of this blog has nothing to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder, her books, or the Little House on the Prairie television series. It’s just a licensed stock photo. But it’s appropriate, don’t you think?
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