Artist 102, bureaucrats 0 in Wildcat trademark dispute

Artist 102, bureaucrats 0 in Wildcat trademark dispute
Nick MacIntosh exits Yellowknife City Hall in triumph bearing a box of t-shirts that celebrate the iconic Wildcat Café.Jack Danylchuk.

Yellowknife artist Nick MacIntosh reclaimed his Wildcat Café t-shirts from city hall last week after councillors voted unanimously to overturn a bureaucratic decision to enforce its trademark on the iconic Old Town building.

“I’m inspired by the support I received,” MacIntosh said after the community rallied to his side when city officials threatened him with legal action for failing to seek permission to depict the Wildcat on a t-shirt.

Two dozen supporters packed a municipal services committee meeting to support MacIntosh, who conceded that he had “done this in a backward way.

“I messed up; I’m sorry. Could I please have my shirts back?” he asked council.

The shirts cost MacIntosh almost $1,500 to produce and he managed to sell just three for $20 each before the city swooped in and demanded that he surrender the shirts that depict a mischief of mice dining on cheese in the storied café.

MacIntosh supporters George Lessard and Walt Humphries were critical of the city’s approach to protecting its trademark, and characterized it as “more than heavy-handed, absurd and anti-artist.”
“An artist can do whatever he wants,” said Humphries, who has been making art all his life. “There is just no regulation on it and there is no way you can regulate it.”

Lessard noted that the city’s trademark on the Wildcat was not well known, and that the city has made no effort since acquiring rights to the brand in 2011 to engage those who might want to use if for commercial purposes.

“I have no objection to the city making money from the trademark…but insisting the work will be destroyed would be a little more than heavy-handed,” Lessard said.

Councillors were mostly sympathetic to MacIntosh and his plight.

The trademark and the process to apply to use the Wildcat image were poorly communicated, said Adrian Bell, but after a process is established, the city should retain the right to refuse an application to protect the interests of the city and the café operator.

Niels Konge argued that taxpayers who paid for the $500,000 renovation of the Wildcat are true owners of the trademark.

“As far as I am concerned, it is the people’s trademark and they should be free to use it,” he said.

The week ended happily and profitably for MacIntosh. He sold his entire inventory at Ramble and Ride, an annual festival that celebrates Yellowknife’s beginnings in Old Town, including one to Mayor Mark Heyck, and may ask the city’s permission to print a second edition of the t-shirts.

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