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Questions surround advertised trade show

‘Black BBB’ under fire for trademark infringement

A recently-established business that is recruiting trade show vendors for an expo that may — or may not — take place is under fire for violating a federally-registered trademark.

The Black Better Business Bureau Inc., which registered with the Secretary of State’s office Nov. 22, 1999, has been asked by the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi to “cease and desist” operating under the trademarked name, said Harold Palmer, president of the statewide association.

“We have spent years developing a federally-registered name and logo, and we will not stand idly by and see someone use it in the way it’s being used,” Palmer said. “We have sent registered letters asking him to cease and desist. He has ignored our requests.”

On Feb. 22, the Black Better Business Bureau began mailing promotional material to businesses around the state, inviting them to participate in the Mississippi Black Expo May 27-29, 2000, at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson.

“The purpose of this expo is to provide opportunities for job seekers to meet employers, to showcase our rising job markets in this area, along with getting business leaders under one roof to seek, knock and find solutions to the needs of our community,” read a letter signed by George T. Gaines, president and CEO of the Black Better Business Bureau.

Sonya Goza, booking manager of the Mississippi Trade Mart, said George Gaines contacted her about booking the expo on those dates, but never signed a contract.

“If he trots down here May 27 to set it up, he won’t be able to,” she said. “He did not return the contract within the 10-day period as specified in the contract, so the deal is null and void.”

According to promotional material circulated by the BBBB, added features include “legislators and political figures having the opportunity to speak on an elevated platform for 30 minutes per day, per reserved booth space; the Mississippi Blood Foundation will conduct a blood drive on all three days at the expo; over 25 black-owned bankers from nationwide and over 10 black investment groups will be expected.”

Dani Edmonson, manager of communications and public relations for Mississippi Blood Services, said the agency was contacted several weeks ago by a representative of BBBB about the possibility of hosting a blood drive.

“From my understanding, there is not a Mississippi Blood Foundation anywhere in the state,” said Edmonson. “All I recall is that the possibility of hosting a blood drive was mentioned.”

In a letter dated Jan. 30, 2000, from the BBBB to prospective sponsors, a platinum sponsor that pays $3,000 receives a three-day booth rental in an eight-foot by 10-foot booth, a six-foot table, two side chairs, promotions on television, radio, newspapers (more than 19 daily papers and 76 weekly papers) with participant’s company logo, a full page ad in The Scoop and “promotions.”

“Some prospective sponsors had been told that they would receive 25 spots on 90.1 (a Jackson radio station),” said Palmer. “If that’s the case, that’s a violation of the FCC because 90.1 is a public broadcasting station and is not allowed to take advertising money.”

Gaines states in a letter that a portion of the funds generated from the event would be donated to the Boys and Girls Club.

“Not true,” said Billy Redd, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Jackson.

“I didn’t even know who George Gaines was until the Better Business Bureau called and informed me they were using our name for fund-raising,” said Redd. “We’ve protected our name since the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Jackson was established in 1936.”

“In the last few years, we’ve had problems with people using our name but not sending the money to us and therefore, it doesn’t get to the children for whom it is intended. The Black Better Business Bureau did not get through the appropriate channels and does not have permission to use our name,” he said.

Palmer said Gaines has been repeatedly asked to support statements made in the BBBB’s literature.

“He has refused to do so,” Palmer said. “The Better Business Bureau’s investigation has yet to validate any of the statements he has made.”

When Gaines was contacted by the Mississippi Business Journal, he declined to talk about his business or the upcoming expo. He asked the reporter to call his office phone and leave a message, promising to return the call. He did not.

According to a registered letter mailed March 20 by the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., based in Arlington, Va., Gaines was asked in writing for the third time to change his company name.

When Gaines was contacted a second time by a reporter for the MBJ he asked if he could return the call later that day. Gaines never called back.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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