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Hillsborough approves settlement of lawsuit with Hernando County over airport trademark

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority governing board voted unanimously Friday to settle its federal lawsuit with Hernando County in a trademark dispute over the name of Hernando's airport.

Hernando had changed the name of the old Hernando County Airport to Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport. Both sides then engaged in legal sabre-rattling, then court-ordered mediation.

On Tuesday, the Hernando County Commission approved a settlement proposal that included a compromise on the name and other provisions. The name proposed was Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

The Hillsborough Aviation Authority accepted the settlement Friday. First it met in a closed session to discuss the litigation, then took a public vote to end it.

The Hillsborough board filed suit, it said, to protect its federal trademark. Tampa International Airport applied for a trademark on "Tampa Airport" before Hernando made its name change but wasn't awarded the trademark until after it filed suit against Hernando County.

"At the end of the day I think this is a win-win for the marketing of our brand," said Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano.

In all, the Hillsborough Aviation Authority spent more than $100,000 to secure the trademark and then sue Hernando County over it. The airport paid $36,000 to the Florida law firm of GrayRobinson to apply for the trademark. The firm was also hired to represent the airport in federal court in the trademark battle, and so far the bill is $75,000 and counting.

Hernando County's legal fees were not immediately available.

Litigation would have cost both sides even more. Hernando officials were happy to reach an agreement and avoid a court fight.

"This has been an experience for everyone involved and hopefully a good one,'' said Gary Schraut, chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority.

"I think that the Hillsborough authority has a right to ask a question, but I didn't totally agree with the venue that they chose. The final resolution is fantastic for both Tampa International Airport and Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. We can each do what we do best.''

For TIA that means providing passenger service for the region, and for Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport "we can go back to creating jobs,'' Schraut said.

"I'm relieved and overjoyed that it's over,'' said Hernando County Commission Chairman Dave Russell. "I commend the folks of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority for their willingness to work with us, and I look forward to the newly minted partnership with them.''

One of the provisions of the settlement is that a partnership will be forged that would have Hernando County steer more passengers to Tampa International Airport, passengers who might currently opt to fly out of Orlando. And Tampa could direct potential new business to Hernando County, where the airport is the centerpiece of the county's industrial, rail and corporate parks.

As part of the settlement, Hernando also agreed that it is currently not offering regularly scheduled passenger service and has no plans to do so in the immediate future. If that changes, the settlement states that the Hillsborough authority can again pursue legal action.

For Hernando airport officials, any future decisions about passenger service would be driven by the market. Currently, the airport does not have the infrastructure in place to become a passenger hub.

Michael McHugh, Hernando's business development manager, said he was glad to see Hillsborough accept the settlement.

"This means we're back to business, promoting our regional airport and what we have to offer,'' McHugh said. "We will also look to a deeper and more collaborative relationship with Hillsborough and find ways to complement each other.''

Renaming the airport was accomplished using a group of county stakeholders, including business representatives and residents and a professional facilitator to lead the discussion. Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport was the first pick, but Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport was also high on the committee's list.

"We wanted the community's DNA in this," McHugh said, "and it is.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@yahoo.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hillsborough approves settlement of lawsuit with Hernando County over airport trademark 03/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:39pm]
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