The Allens, Light City’s Creators, and the City Reach a Settlement in Their Trademark Court Battle

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“Light Happenings Part II,” by Labbodies. Photo by Stephen Babcock.

The legal dispute between the City of Baltimore and the couple who created Light City appears to be coming to a close.

The six-month-old court battle over the event’s name, logo and other intellectual property reached an endpoint on Monday, when U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander dismissed lawsuits filed both by the City of Baltimore against Brooke Hall Allen and Justin Allen and by the Allens against the city. Details of the settlement weren’t available in online court records, but the case was flagged as “closed.”

“The parties resolved the case, and they will be issuing a statement in a few days,” said William McDaniel, one of the attorneys representing the city in the case. McDaniel said he couldn’t comment further until then.

In October, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts filed a trademark lawsuit against the couple, who own creative marketing agency What Works Studio, in federal court. The parties had been attempting to resolve their dispute behind closed doors before the city sued, bringing the issue into the public eye. The suit asked Judge Hollander to grant ownership of the Light City trademarks to BOPA and its affiliate, the Baltimore Festival for the Arts.

The city agencies accused the Allens of violating their original partnership agreement by falsely claiming they owned the event’s trademarks and design elements, and by failing to hold up their end of the deal in which they agreed to book speakers for the innovation conferences (renamed“Labs” this year).

The Allens countersued weeks later, accusing the city of fraud, trademark infringement and civil conspiracy, among other claims, by trying to revoke their ownership rights to the festival they had helped create. The couple asked Judge Hollander to keep BOPA from continuing to use the trademarks amid ongoing litigation – a request that wasn’t granted, as evidenced by the vibrant lights, conferences and other well-marketed attractions of Light City 2017.

Accompanying the legal accusations were barbs in the press. BOPA Executive Director Bill Gilmore said in a statement that the Allens “asserted ownership rights in the Light City trademarks and started to use these marks for their own benefit.”

When the Allens countersued, they responded in an accompanying letter that BOPA made costly mistakes, such as overspending, paying for installations that fell into the harbor and paying for a visually ineffective installation of lights along the waterfront. “BOPA repeatedly hindered the conference planning which made for an unnecessarily difficult process and resulted in lost revenue for the festival,” they wrote.

McDaniel’s office then responded to the countersuit in November with a statement saying “it has become very clear that the primary motive of Mrs. Hall and Mr. Allen is not the long-term success of the event, but money, and a lot of it.” The statement also accused the Allens of seeking up to $2.6 million in compensation before BOPA sued, which he deemed an “attempt to hold a nonprofit financially hostage.”

Julie Hopkins, an attorney representing the Allens, responded that the suggestion about money being their motivation was “offensive and patently untrue.” She said the city made them an “unreasonable” offer when they asked to be paid for their idea if they were going to be shut out of the festival-planning process.

Six months later, the court battle has ended in a settlement, anyway. Neither Hopkins nor the Allens responded to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon. City attorney Matthew Nayden and Interim City Solicitor David Ralph also haven’t returned messages requesting additional details.

Amid the looming legal controversy, Light City 2017 proved to be a success in terms of attendance, with an estimated 470,000 visitors coming to view the bright lights, music and carnival atmosphere downtown. BOPA hasn’t yet released official figures for attendance and revenues, though the agency has reportedly already begun planning for next year.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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