For nearly 25 years, key players in Omaha’s real estate market have organized an annual seminar on industry trends. They call it CREW — short for Commercial Real Estate Workshop.
Now a national women’s association is laying claim to the CREW name — and demanding that the Omahans back off the trademark it says it has had 30 years.
The tug of war comes as the local group prepares an April 19 seminar expected to draw 500 people from throughout the Midwest. National and regional experts are scheduled to speak on topics that include land pricing, senior living, malls and the influence data centers have on real estate. An Omaha mayoral candidate face-off also is planned.
Jerry Slusky, founder of the local workshop, said he learned this past summer that the other CREW, the national network of Commercial Real Estate Women, was not happy.
A July letter warned Slusky that the women’s association had used the CREW trademark for three decades. “As a result, the mark now enjoys an enormous amount of recognition, particularly within the commercial real estate industry,” wrote the network’s attorney, Alicia Morris Groos of Austin, Texas.
Morris Groos said her client has numerous federal trademark registrations for the CREW acronym and is concerned that others will mistakenly assume the women’s network is affiliated with or sponsors the Omaha workshop. The women’s concern is heightened, Morris Groos said, because the association holds an annual Midwest CREW conference and also has an Omaha women’s chapter.
Morris Groos told a reporter that the women’s association would have no comment, except to say the flap remains unresolved.
On March 20, she sent a more pointed letter to Slusky threatening “a number of remedies” for violation of trademark law, including an injunction to stop the workshop.
She said the women had no problem with Slusky’s group using the longer version of its name, “Commercial Real Estate Workshop” — just not the acronym CREW.
In the opinion of Slusky, who is a lawyer, “This is much ado about nothing.”
Slusky and the event’s planning committee also consulted trademark attorneys. In a March 27 letter to the women’s association, they said that while the women’s association federally trademarked the word “CREW” in the 1980s, it didn’t have a chapter in the Midwest until the 2000s. Meanwhile, the local CREW annual workshop has been going on since 1990.
“Prior use by us would ultimately trump them,” Slusky said.
Local lawyers said the deciding factor in a trademark dispute is whether confusion exists between the two concepts. Slusky said the 25-member CREW workshop planning committee, which represents a cross section of real estate disciplines, knew the difference.
He offered to put a disclaimer on the Omaha workshop’s marketing materials to clarify it was not affiliated with the women’s group. He noted also that the women’s Omaha chapter has been significantly involved in local CREW workshops.
“There are lots more important things in life,” Slusky said. “I am hopeful we can sit down and come up with a practical solution in which we both support each other.”
Meanwhile, the April 19 Omaha workshop — titled “CREW Midwest, Shifting Gears (Are you gaining momentum)” — is planned at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
Said Slusky: “The show will go on.”
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