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Cleveland Metroparks Zoo sues Pittsburgh Zoo over ‘Asian Lantern’

A Cleveland Metroparks spokesperson tells 3News that the phrase is trademarked and that the Pittsburgh Zoo did not receive permission to use it.

CLEVELAND — Editor’s note: The video in the player above is from a story published on June 15, 2021.

On Thursday, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo took legal action in the U.S. District Court of Cleveland against the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium for their unauthorized use of “Asian Lantern Festival,” which they claim to own a trademark on. 

Legal documents obtained by 3News show that the Cleveland Metroparks, under the name Cleveland Metropolitan Park District, filed a verified complaint for a temporary restraining order, as well as a preliminary and permanent injunction and damages over the Pittsburgh Zoo’s use of the phrase. 

In a statement to 3News, Cleveland Metroparks Communication Manager Jeff Tolman says that the Pittsburgh Zoo toured the Asian Lantern Festival in 2020 before creating promotional and marketing materials for a similar event in Pittsburgh set for the summer of 2021, under the same trademarked name. 

“Asian Lantern Festival has become a summer staple in Cleveland and we want to protect our event and the reputation and success we have achieved over the past several years,” Tolman told 3News.

According to the Cleveland Metroparks, via court documents, the Northeast Ohio zoo has an agreement with Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc., a company specializing in Asian-themed light displays, to present the festival to visitors under the name “Asian Lantern Festival,” which they say “no other entity in the United States was using” previously. 

Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc. is slated to produce both the displays in Pittsburgh and Cleveland this summer, however, according to court documents. 

Attorneys for the Pittsburgh Zoo say that the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s claim to the phrase is impossible, stating that Asian-Lantern Festivals have been around for thousands of years, and more recently have been held in St. Petersburg, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Tuscon, Arizona; Des Moines, Iowa; and Providence, Rhode Island. 

“The instant Motion – and the entirety of the above-captioned suit – represents Plaintiff’s audacious attempt to claim intellectual property rights in the phrase ‘Asian Lantern Festival’ when used in association with an event and names such event which grounds in traditions of an Asian cultural festival that has existed for over two millennia and has been more recently celebrated and perpetuated in the acknowledgment of the historic festival and to share the various aspects of the rich cultural heritage of the original Chinese and Southeast Asian festival,” a document from the attorneys for the Pittsburgh Zoo reads. 

Officials for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, however, claim that the Pittsburgh Zoo did not come up with their idea until after visiting Cleveland’s light display in 2020, and that two “Asian Lantern Festivals” so close in proximity will confuse patrons. 

“In 2021, Pittsburgh Zoological Society of Pittsburgh a/k/a Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium (“Pittsburgh Zoo”) announced that it would host its own inaugural light show event; however, it has advertised and marketed the event using the exact same “Asian Lantern Festival” name as Cleveland Metroparks. Pittsburgh Zoo’s unauthorized use of the “Asian Lantern Festival” mark is likely to confuse and deceive consumers and cause them to mistakenly believe that Pittsburgh Zoo’s event is authorized, sponsored, approved, endorsed, or licensed by Cleveland Metroparks,” one document from the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District says.

The two festivals are also set to run concurrently, complicating matters even further.  

Additionally, lawyers for the Pittsburgh Zoo, claim that due to the generic nature of the phrase, “Asian Lantern Festival,” the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has no right to claim a trademark on the phrase.

The festival, which was first held in Cleveland in 2018, has seen major success in the three years since its conception. Tolman tells 3News that since its beginning, the Asian Lantern Festival at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has attracted more than 150,000 annual visitors each summer. 

A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, July 15, at 2 p.m. Judge James S. Gwin will preside over the meeting.  

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