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Chris Jones

Flap Over Ad Slogan Goes to Court

10 February 2006

LAS VEGAS -- Following months of quiet percolation, the headline-grabbing trademark dispute over the "What happens here, stays here" slogan is again bubbling to the surface.

Representatives from both sides of the battle will meet Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Reno, where Judge Larry Hicks could rule on a motion for summary judgment requested by co-plaintiffs R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Should Hicks grant the motion, the parties would win their trademark infringement battle with Dorothy Tovar, a California businesswoman who sells products adorned with the similar phrase "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

Hicks could also deny the plaintiffs' motion, however, thereby pushing the dispute one step closer to trial.

Tovar's attorney, Dan Ballard, said Thursday he expects Hicks will hear arguments Tuesday, but he does not believe the judge will offer a ruling.

The authority's board must still discuss a potential settlement, said Ballard, who could not rule out submitting his own motion for summary judgment should Hicks allow it.

"I don't think it's fair to say this is going to trial, but we're prepared to do that," Ballard said.

Authority Legal Counsel Luke Puschnig will on Tuesday offer an update on the case and may request board action.

Puschnig and Rossi Ralenkotter, the authority's president, on Thursday declined to discuss their expectations while the case is under litigation.

R&R, a local marketing company, created "What happens here, stays here" for the authority. In March 2004, the company sued Tovar, claiming she infringed upon its efforts to promote Las Vegas in association with the authority.

The case also unearthed a controversial $1 trademark sale between R&R boss Billy Vassiliadis and Ralenkotter.

Though some cried the deal could enrich R&R at taxpayers' expense, Vassiliadis, Ralenkotter and their respective agents were exonerated through an authority-funded review by Morrison & Foerster.

Through December, the authority has paid that San Francisco law firm, and two other firms, $309,633 related to the Tovar litigation.

Morrison & Foerster also received $320,837 to investigate the $1 sale and help draft new board policies for the authority.

The Tovar case has progressed quietly in recent weeks. It was most recently discussed in a public setting at November's board meeting, when Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman asked Puschnig to outline the pros and cons of future legal action related to trademark infringement issues.

The expenses of trademark defense could become prohibitive. Goodman hopes to form a board consensus on which type of suspected cases should be prosecuted and which should be ignored.