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First Skirmish to the Tribune, But Who Wins the War?



The decision is in and its a tough one -- at least, for the St. Petersburg Times.

U.S. District Judge James Moody ruled this morning on the injunction requested by the Tampa Tribune against the Times' free tabloid tbt* Tampa Bay Times, barring the St. Petersburg paper from expanding its use of the name beyond the current logo until the trademark lawsuit is complete.

This decison was expected. Few thought Moody would dismiss the case or bar the Times from publishing tbt*. But Moody went a step further, expressing in his decision that there was "substantial likelihood" that the Tribune's lawsuit would prevail.

"In reviewing the marks at issue in this matter, The Tampa Times versus tbt* Tampa Bay Times, this Court finds that the mere inclusion of the regional descriptive word 'Bay' is insufficient to distinguish the mark of Plaintiffs from that of Defendant as to eliminate the likelihood of confusion. This is particularly so since Defendant is changing its product from a weekly entertainment guide to a general news format published five days per week, while at the same time changing the masthead emphasis from the letters “tbt” to the words “Tampa Bay Times.” As such, there is a substantial likelihood that Plaintiffs will prevail on the merits and, since the Court determines that Plaintiffs have satisfied the other three factors as well, a preliminary injunction precluding Defendant’s use of the mark tbt* Tampa Bay Times is appropriate."

Such language is often a not-too-subtle signal to litigants: settle to avoid costly trial and likely defeat. This leaves Times editors in a tough spot: With the five-days-a-week publication of tbt* due to start Monday -- complete with hawkers passing out copies at popular locations and noontime concerts all week at Lykins Gaslight Park in Tampa -- they must consider continuing to build the tbt* brand through the conclusion of the lawsuit, given Moody's opinion that they will likely lose.

The tbt* rollout will be a major affair for the St. Petersburg Times, with 40,000 copies made available daily featuring a fair amount of content repurposed from the Mothership newspaper. Following a pattern established by other free tabloid newspapers created by traditional "broadsheet" publications such as The Dallas Morning News' Quick, tbt* will focus on reaching readers in their late teens, twenties and early thirties -- with the idea of building a newspaper habit which might lead them to try the mothership newspaper. (The Quick comparison is apt, because Dallas doesn't have a huge mass transit-based commuter culture to hand its free tabloid to, like other cities where such tabs have been tried.)

Such tabloids can also be an incubator to try new ideas with less risk - developing approaches which can later be imported to the core newspaper. And it's tough to know whether the new tbt* will be more competition for the Weekly Planet, where it will vie for the same advertisers, or the Tampa Tribune, where it will vie for the same readers.

The rollout will also include changes to the Times' online presence, bringing, and together in a single portal known as Given how little things change sometimes in the world of newspapers, it's a lot of change at once for the Tampa Bay area's largest newspaper.

Props to St. Pete Times Blogs

My online pal Jay Rosen and his students at NYU have done an amazing study of newspaper blogs, listing the Times fourth among the top 100 newspapers with blogs -- beaten only by the Houston Chronicle, Washington Post and USA Today.

I'm a bit bummed that I didn't get listed along with my good buddies Janet Keeler and Rick Gershman, but we're all a team, and it's nice to get some props from the audience most avidly consuming blogs -- pointy-headed college kids with a jones for journalism.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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