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OC man wants to trademark names of communities

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COTO DE CAZA, Calif. -- An Orange County man has filed applications to trademark the name of the enclave where he lives as well as several other communities.

Joseph Lewis Aguirre filed claims on 15 community names in hopes of using them and their symbols for marketing, clothing and other products, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He has sought to use the names of Ladera Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza where he lives.

Registration of a trademark doesn't create exclusive rights, but is recognition by the U.S. government of the right of the owner to use the mark in commerce to distinguish its goods from those of others.

Aguirre sent a letter to the CZ Master Homeowners Association in Coto de Caza last month, saying it did not have permission to use the trademarks, which includes the community's name and symbols long used by the association and businesses in the area.

"He tried to tell us we could not use the name 'Coto de Caza,'" homeowners association president Bob Varo said.

Sam Stone, a trademark attorney in Orange County, said if the name of a place is used in a trademark, the owner of the trademark cannot prevent others from using that name as long as it is used to describe the geographical location.

"We're not a commercial enterprise; therefore, we are not subject to these trademark laws relating to geographic names. Any claim against the city would be completely baseless," said Tony Beall, mayor of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Each trademark filing costs $325. Aguirre has filed for trademarks more than 15 times, including two recent filings in 2007, government records show.

The name Coto de Caza was taken from a rough translation from Portuguese meaning "hunting preserve" by the real estate developers who subdivided the area more than 35 years ago. The guard-gated community has more than 14,000 residents and is featured on the cable TV show "The Real Housewives of Orange County."

A similar claim worked its way through the courts last year when a Calabasas man trademarked the term "Malibu Pier" and was sued by the state, which owns the landmark. He lost in court.

Information from: The Orange County Register, www.ocregister.com

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