August 8, 2009 in Business

Travel guide site in dispute

GoNorthwest.com gets warnings from airline
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane Web site owner has landed in the cross hairs of Northwest Airlines, which claims that the locally based online travel guide infringes on the air carrier’s corporate trademark.

In two letters sent by airline attorneys, the company has said GoNorthwest!, based in Spokane, is misleading or confusing the public.

Jack C. High, 68, operates the site from his Spokane South Hill home. He started it in Seattle 10 years ago. Three years ago he moved to Spokane, bringing the site with him.

GoNorthwest.com is a regional travel guide to Northwest tourist and recreation attractions. It doesn’t sell travel services, but features some ads directing people to online companies selling airline tickets.

Northwest Airlines’ site sells tickets to passengers.

In April, Northwest Airlines told High that the company believes he is violating its trademark and could cause confusion among the public.

After High refused to budge, the airline sent a second note offering to let GoNorthwest.com continue if High would relinquish his trademark registration and agree to not “expand” his business.

High also refused that offer, saying that request would leave him without legal protection and diminish his trademark’s value.

Kent Landers, a spokesman for the airline, said the dispute arises from past paid ads on High’s site with the words “Northwest Airlines” that directed people to sites such as Lowfares.com. “So GoNorthwest directed people to a direct competitor of ours,” Landers said.

High said those ads on GoNorthwest! were produced by other companies. He had no control over what those ads read, he said.

Most of his paid ads come from hotels, resorts and travel guide publishers.

High’s attorney, David Lowe of Black Lowe & Graham, in Seattle, said Northwest Airlines’ position is without merit.

Lowe noted that Northwest Airlines has co-existed with GoNorthwest for 10 years “without any instances of confusion” among customers.

Delta Air Lines last year bought Northwest.

“Since they’re re-branding NWA (Northwest Airlines) to Delta, it begs the question why they are doing this now,” Lowe added.

Landers said despite the re-branding, Northwest continues to operate and the name still attracts passengers and customers.

What happens next is unclear, according to Lowe. “There’s now a cloud over (Jack’s) head. Unless the other side comes to their senses and stops their persecution of him, or if in the court of public opinion they pull the plug, Mr. High is in the position of waiting for the hatchet to fall,” Lowe said.


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