Real estate agent and blogger Daniel Rothamel — known for years to his readers as the "Real Estate Zebra" — has been hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit by a company that produces a "Zebra Report" and "Zebra Blog" to market its services to real estate agents.
Bellingham, Wash.-based The Lones Group Inc. claims its use of zebra-themed imagery and trademarks predates Rothamel’s, and that he is "unfairly diverting business" away from the company.
In a complaint filed Tuesday against Rothamel and his brokerage, Strong Team Realtors Inc., The Lones Group seeks an injunction restraining Rothamel and the brokerage from using "in any manner" the trademarks The Zebra Blog or The Zebra Report, "and any other term or terms likely to cause confusion," including "Real Estate Zebra."
The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, including an award for damages equal to three times the amount of actual damages.
Rothamel, who is also a frequent moderator and presenter at Inman News events, said he had never heard of The Lones Group before receiving a cease-and-desist letter in July.
Rothamel’s attorney responded to the letter, stating that he and Strong Team disputed its factual allegations and legal conclusions.
"Neither Mr. Rothamel, nor (Strong Team), has injured, damaged, or infringed upon the rights of any third party, including your client, and they deny all of your allegations of liability" set forth in the July 23 cease-and-desist letter, Rothamel’s attorney said in a July 30 letter.
Rothamel said Thursday that his position as stated in the letter has not changed.
"I think it is unfortunate that the Lones group has chosen to go this route," Rothamel told Inman News. "I am going to work with my attorney to resolve the matter."
Rothamel’s "zebra" moniker relates to his work as a basketball referee at the high school and college levels — referees wear black-and-white-striped jerseys.
The Lones Group website states that the company provides marketing and other business services. According to a bio on the site, Lone Group President Denise Lones has worked as a real estate agent, broker and corporate trainer. Lones did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the complaint filed by her attorneys in federal district court, The Lones Group has been known by consumers for many years as the "real estate zebra company."
The company has offered a publication known as "The Zebra Report" since 2005, the complaint said, and has provided "blog services" since November 2006 using the mark, "The Zebra Blog."
According to the "whois" domain name database, RealEstateZebra.com was registered in October 2006.
The lawsuit claims The Lones Group has been using "zebra stripes and other zebra images" since early 2005, and that Rothamel registered RealEstateZebra.com after first use by Lones of the Zebra Report mark.
The lawsuit alleges that Rothamel and his company are "direct competitors," offering "competing blog services in the field of real estate, to the same types of consumers" and "unfairly diverting business" away from Lones Group. The lawsuit also alleges that consumers may "believe that (Rothamel) is the source of real estate services" offered by The Lones Group.
Although Rothamel and Strong Team are based in Virginia, they "offer their services to U.S. residents, including but not limited to residents of the state of Washington," the suit claims.