U.S. Water News Online
PITTSBURGH -- An environmental consultant is being sued for
using the word "riverkeeper" as part of the name of a nonprofit
environmental group he formed last year.
Eugene P. Macri Jr. said the word is generic and he's fighting
efforts by New York-based Riverkeeper Inc. to force him to stop using
the name in his group, The Last Riverkeeper.
Riverkeeper began using the name in the early 1980s for its work
on the Hudson River and it was registered in 1990, according to
Riverkeeper's trademark-infringement suit filed in federal court in
Harrisburg in early May.
Macri, an aquatic scientist from Waynesboro, said he decided to
use the word when he formed The Last Riverkeeper in February 2004
because the name fit its mission: "dedicated to the preservation of
streams, rivers and lakes and the environment." He claims the term
"riverkeeper" originated with English riverkeepers who worked on
Riverkeeper's affiliate, Waterkeeper Alliance, is a coalition of
dozens of environmental groups that use the name Riverkeeper or a
variant of it with a geographic locator. The groups first tried to
get Macri to join the coalition, but he refused. Waterkeeper is also
Though Riverkeeper and The Last Riverkeeper share the same general
mission of protecting waterways, Macri is critical of how Riverkeeper
operates. It lacks scientific research and instead files frivolous
lawsuits, he said.
He's particularly critical of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is
Riverkeeper's attorney and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
"Kennedy Jr. has changed the Waterkeeper Alliance into a bunch of
high-priced ambulance chasers who appear more interested in their
fees than protecting the environment," Marci said.
Riverkeeper says it uses the threat of lawsuits to respond to
citizen pollution reports. On its Web site, the group says it has
"proven to be the David who successfully topples many a polluting
Goliath" by taking legal action.
The group worked hard to develop a brand identified with doing
good environmental work and must protect its trademark so others
don't misuse the name, said attorney Mark Lerner. Another group using
a similar name is likely to confuse the public, according to the
"Riverkeeper doesn't relish suing him and has tried to work this
out," Lerner said.
As for Macri's contention that a generic term can't be
trademarked, Lerner said a generic name can take on special meaning
when tied to a product or service -- Apple computers, for instance.
"Riverkeeper has come to designate the cause of environmental
advocacy services," Lerner said.
Macri is the first person Riverkeeper has had to sue for trademark
infringement, Lerner said. Others using the name either changed names
or came into the Waterkeeper Alliance fold.
Fighting the name battle is diverting resources that could be
better spent fighting for the environment, he said.
Macri vows to fight on, even though the odds may be against him.
Chuck Gilman a trademark expert from Cherry Hill, N.J., said it
does sound as though Macri's group is infringing.
"The big test of trademark infringement is, does it create
confusion?" he said.
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