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Winter the dolphin has lawyer to protect her trademark

CLEARWATER — Of all the rescuers, trainers and producers who have helped make Winter the dolphin a success, few wield as much power as her attorney.

That's right: The tailless star of Dolphin Tale, whom few once thought would live, is represented by a Tampa lawyer paid to enforce her publicity and licensing rights as a "nonhuman" celebrity.

Winter, after all, is a registered trademark. Her name and likeness are shielded from knockoffs in markets from Mexico to Malta. Her image, her brand, is big money. And like Flipper, Mr. Ed or Rin Tin Tin before her, she can't protect it herself.

Five years ago, when Winter's story of rescue and revival was still being pitched to news crews, Clearwater Marine Aquarium chief executive David Yates brought on attorney Frank Jakes to safeguard what Yates believed would become a national marvel.

Jakes, a graduate of Dixie Hollins High School, has worked for decades in intellectual property law for Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, one of the Tampa Bay area's biggest firms.

He began registering Winter with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to preserve the aquarium's stake in stuff like a Winter documentary and tchotchkes from the gift shop. "We had to protect the persona of Winter, the brand of Winter," Jakes said, "long before the motion picture was a reality."

Then Hollywood called. Studios like Alcon Entertainment, which produced The Blind Side and My Dog Skip before starting on Winter's saga, are well-versed in the lucrative minutiae of merchandise from any movie — let alone a family-friendly flick. "The way the film industry works," Jakes said, "is they want the world."

Negotiations crossed from Tampa to Los Angeles, with Jakes and the Alcon attorneys trying to carve the best slice. Jakes said both sides of the partnership got along well. (Details of the agreement, like who got the better deal, remain under wraps.)

We won't know for sure how watertight those plans are until someone tries to exploit Winter's fame. But we can get an idea of their prevalence from the dozens of trademark registrations worldwide.

In the U.S., there are registrations for Winter inflatable bath toys, mugs, writing tablets, infantwear and dolphin plush dolls without tails. In Mexico, Winter magnets and video games. In Canada, Winter candy, wallets and key chains.

There are registrations for Winter Christmas tree decorations in the United Kingdom. Children's bicycles in Spain. Playing cards in Portugal. Cell phone accessories in the Czech Republic. Disposable cameras in Denmark. Vending machines in Sweden. Boots in Bulgaria.

On file for the European Union trademarks is a small, outdated drawing, bound to the file by law.

It shows Winter, her snout open, a crude likeness drawn by hand.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Winter the dolphin has lawyer to protect her trademark 09/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2011 9:30am]
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