Chicago’s Graffiti Blasters programme triumphs in court

United States of America
In Garcia v City of Chicago (February 11 2009), the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has ruled in favour of the City of Chicago in a trademark infringement case involving the city’s well-known Graffiti Blasters programme.
Started by Mayor Daley in 1993, Graffiti Blasters offers a free graffiti removal service to private property owners. The city’s Department of Streets & Sanitation removes gang-related street art and other types of signage vandalism with ‘blast’ trucks or paint crews that erase or cover up markings. Graffiti Blasters recently celebrated its 15th anniversary in operation and boasted that it had cleaned more than 1.6 million instances of graffiti vandalism. The programme has become one of the most popular municipal services offered by the City of Chicago and a role model for other cities.
In October 2007 Rudolfo Garcia sued the City of Chicago, claiming infringement of its service mark GRAFFITI BLASTERS. Garcia alleged that he had operated a graffiti removal business under the name Graffiti Blasters since 1985.
The city showed that Garcia had filed this case 14 years after he first became aware of the city’s use of the Graffiti Blasters name and 10 years after he sent a cease and desist letter to the city. The court noted that the city’s activities in building the Graffiti Blasters name were “staggering”. By the time Garcia filed suit, the city had:
  • cleaned more than 1 million sites;
  • invested significantly in the promotion of the Graffiti Blasters name and programme; and
  • garnered widespread goodwill and renown.
The court found that Garcia’s 10-year silence between his exchange of communications and the commencement of his suit in 2007, coupled with the city’s considerable activities and expenditures in the interim, provided a “poster child for a laches defence”. The court recognized that the delay in filing suit was so long that the city would be unfairly prejudiced if the case were allowed to continue.
The city is thus free to continue to use the well-known Graffiti Blasters name for its graffiti removal service without fear that it is infringing Garcia’s rights.
The case was dismissed with prejudice, thus ending the matter.
Philip Jones, Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, Chicago

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