Pity the stenographer who gets a little confused: Kappa Sigma Fraternity, a 234-chapter organization founded in 1869 at UVA with its national headquarters in Charlottesville, has initiated a lawsuit against the Kappa Sigma Memorial Foundation. The Fraternity’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on May 16, alleges that the Foundation has been unlawfully using trademarked emblems of the Fraternity with the intent of deceiving potential donors.
The Kappa Sigma Fraternity cut the ribbon June 2 on their new national headquarters at 1610 Scottsville Rd., a building that replaces their old headquarters on Ivy Road, which was lost in a legal battle.
Fraternity members created the Foundation in 1966 to manage the frat’s headquarters, but the relationship got messy in the late ’90s. The Foundation decided in 1999 to sell the frat house on Ivy Road, for which it still held the title. The ensuing court battle dragged on for four years, until the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Fraternity had no claim to the trust in which the property was held. According to the frat’s new complaint, “no relationship has existed between the parties and any implied license from the Fraternity to the Foundation to use the [registered trademarks] was revoked.”
According to the complaint, the Foundation’s “use of counterfeit symbols, logos, likenesses, and images is likely to cause confusion in the minds of the public, leading the public to believe that the Foundation’s solicitations and other materials emanate or originate from the Fraternity.” For what the Fraternity deems unfair use of its trademarks by the Foundation, it seeks unspecified damages and the immediate cessation of such use.
Craig Wood, attorney for the Kappa Sigma Memorial Foundation, tells C-VILLE that the Foundation is a charitable organization that primarily gives funding for college scholarships and alcohol-safety programs. While the Foundation has no official response at this time, Wood says, “it has used that name openly for its entire existence, so there’s nothing new here.” Roman Lifson, attorney for the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, would not comment on any ongoing litigation.
The lawsuit is working its way through the courts even as the Fraternity cut the ribbon June 2 on its new headquarters near Monticello, “the largest International Headquarters in the Fraternal world,” in the words of the frat’s website. The Fraternity bought the land in 2006 for $2.5 million.
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