Noncompliant preacher jailed over Adventist trademark

Officials with the Seventh-day Adventist Church got upset with a small town pastor for lifting its name and using it on church signs and the Internet. The preacher from the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church is behind bars in San Bernardino County for contempt of court.

The disagreement did not begin as a trademark infringement lawsuit. Church lawyers contacted the self-proclaimed Adventist pastor in 2005, who had no apparent affiliation with the church. The church’s request to remove the Seventh-day Adventist name went unheeded.

The next year, Adventist officials filed an infringement lawsuit, claiming the trademarked name was only for the use of church-approved entities. Adventist attorneys thought the filing might prompt an out-of-court settlement.

The accused pastor ignored settlement efforts. The case was dismissed.

The preacher took the issue to an appeals court, citing the freedom of religious expression guaranteed in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court decided the Act was not applicable and favored the Adventist Church. The Supreme Court also denied the case.

Court orders to force the removal of the infringing signs from the pastor’s church were enforced by marshals. The signs reappeared. A court found the pastor in contempt and issued an arrest warrant.

It is unclear what the pastor’s motives were to copy the Seventh-day Adventist name. Perhaps the recognizable trademark attracted more believers.

Adventist leaders said the church would have been irresponsible if it had not tried to protect its identity. The beliefs of the pastor’s small congregation apparently differed widely from the teachings of the officially-trademarked Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The dispute followed a legal pattern common in intellectual property cases. A cease and desist letter was followed by litigation only after the defendant failed to comply or come to agreeable settlement terms.

Lawyers for the Adventist church said similar disputes frequently ended with licensing agreements that might have allowed the preacher to continue to operate his church under the chosen name.

Source: news.adventist.org, “Trademark infringement case sees North American pastor imprisoned,” Elizabeth Lechleitner, July 30, 2012