PLUG OK license plate
Howrey's Pro bono Efforts Kept "CalCars.Org" Plugged In
Oct 13, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
CalCars-News
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Since April 2007, The California Cars Initiative has been battling against a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by two San Clemente companies, Calcar, Inc. and American Calcar, Inc., accusing us of improperly using the "CalCars" nickname and the domain name "calcars.org." Last week, we received a hard-fought victory when Judge Andrew J. Guilford of the United States Central California District Court issued his ruling that there is no likelihood of confusion in this case as a matter of law.

We're relieved we can now tell you what's been going on. You can read the "Order Granting Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment" at http://www.calcars.org/­calcarinc-summaryjudgment-oct08.pdf .

Judge Guilford's ruling confirmed what we believed all along: that no reasonable jury would think that consumers are going to confuse our use of "CalCars" and "calcars.org" for our PHEV advocacy efforts with the use of "Calcar" by one company that prints automobile operating manuals for a handful of automakers (like the how-to guides in your glove compartment that tell you how to turn your car on) -- or by a second company that just owns and licenses patents (and which has sued major players in the auto industry before) . These companies, owned and run by Michael Obradovich, have the right to appeal the decision, but Judge Guilford's strongly-worded order does not leave much room for error. It is the court's job to analyze at least eight legal factors, and the court found that only one of those arguably weighed in favor of the plaintiffs. In Judge Guilford's order, he mentioned three times that the plaintiffs' evidence was "self-serving." It was also comforting to know that the court did not even dignify with a response Michael Obradovich's repeated attempts to falsely accuse me of trying to take donation money for my own use.

Early on in the case, when I realized that the owner of the companies who filed the trademark infringement complaint would not respond to requests for discussion, but was set on pursuing us, I received advice from Plug In America member Bob Seldon of Seldon & Scillieri. Bob pointed me towards Bill Rooklidge of the global law firm Howrey LLP http://www.howrey.com .

What a lucky break we got! Bill http://www.howrey.com/­rooklidge has been repeatedly recognized by Law & Politics magazine as one of Southern California's "Super Lawyers." He's a past president of the Orange County Patent Law Association and the American Intellectual Property Law Association. It helped too that he has a bachelors' degree in mechanical engineering and is a car buff!

Howrey agreed to defend us pro bono, and even offered to cover expenses, and put together a team of lawyers to stand up to the plaintiffs' baseless charges. Howrey immediately jumped in to defeat plaintiffs' 2007 motion for a preliminary injunction that likely would have stopped us from using our nickname and would have shut down the website until a final decision could be reached. Over the last year and a half, despite character attacks on us as a non-profit, me personally, and our attorneys, Howrey worked tirelessly to make sure the Court understood what was really going on and got to the right decision. Howrey even provided legal assistance to several CalCars supporters whom the plaintiffs summoned to depositions.

We are glad that Howrey's commitment to providing the community with pro bono services extended to our efforts, and that justice was finally served. Bill Rooklidge of Howrey believes that pro bono work "is an important core value of our firm," and the firm dedicated over $22.5 million worth of pro bono services in 2007 alone. On this case (sit down before continuing to read), the firm spent thousands of hours of attorney, paralegal, and clerk time and nearly six figures in out of pocket costs. It is safe to say that the numbers far exceed the total amount CalCars has received in contributions and grants since 2002. And as we worked with Howrey on our defense, we spent hundreds of hours distracted from our main objectives.

I would like to give special thanks to attorneys Bill Rooklidge and Bobby Ghajar, who led the defense, and attorneys Frank Cote, James Pistorino, Russ Hill, Eric Moore, Kelly Craven, Josh Burt, John Mitchell, and Mike Turrill for their efforts, and to Beverley Irwin, Carol Kiyotoki, Laurie Hockin, Maida Ramos, Emilie Soriano, and Sandra Wilson, who also provided valuable support. You can see a photo of Bill and Bobby in front of the LA courthouse where we attended a mediation hearing in March 2008 at http://www.calcars.org/­photos-groups.html .

It's also satisfying to know that our relationship with Howrey did more than just defeat this frivolous lawsuit. Bobby Ghajar (a Southern California Law & Politics "Super Lawyer Rising Star") recently said his awareness of the importance of our efforts continuously grew over the course of the litigation, as gas prices soared and energy issues came to the forefront of the national debates. While he had generally been aware of green cars before becoming involved in this case, he admitted that he had underappreciated the feasibility and promise of PHEVs until learning from CalCars' dedication to the cause. On our side, though we were brought together unwillingly, we truly enjoyed every interaction with these friendly and supremely capable professionals!

We opened our doors as a non-profit in 2002 as a group of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, engineers, environmentalists and consumers committed to tackling energy security, jobs and global warming through advocacy and educational efforts about plug-in electric hybrids. The court recognized that we make many different efforts to "get the word out." Beyond building the world's first plug-in Prius, we've been making great strides over the years in both our public policy and technology development. While I do not doubt that we would still be a leading voice in the march to get automakers to dedicate their resources to build high-performance, clean PHEVs, we would have lost much momentum without the nickname and the domain name.

There is more work to be done, and I am relieved that we can now go back to focusing on our true goals with all of our energy and effort.

(Howrey's spokesperson Chris Till can be reached at 202.383.7127.)

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