The Baltimore City law department successfully blocked the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts from trademarking the annual Artscape festival, officials said on Tuesday.

During a presentation for the budget year beginning July 1 touting the department’s accomplishments, acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson noted that the contracts department worked with an outside counsel to oppose the federal trademark registration.

BOPA, a private-public office that is funded by the city but run by a private board, has had administrative and financial oversight of Artscape since 2004, according to city documents. The city helps pay for the festival.

“Without the law department’s initiative, BOPA would have effectively controlled the use and marketing of the Artscape festival trade name for years to come, without taking into consideration the city’s wants for this festival,” Thompson said.

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Records with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that BOPA first submitted registration paperwork in November 2021 for the purpose of “conducting entertainment exhibitions in the nature of arts and cultural festivals.”

In February of this year, the city law department, along with attorneys at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, filed an opposition to the trademark application, saying BOPA did not rightfully own the festival. Attorneys for BOPA did not respond to the filing and lost by default.

Councilwoman Odette Ramos was incredulous. “The fact that BOPA made this move is just unconscionable, considering that they work for us,” she said. The city’s contract with BOPA says the group agrees not to “grant any rights in or to any copyright, trademark or other intellectual property in which it may have an interest to any other entity without the express written permission of the City.”

In a statement, BOPA spokeswoman Lauren Green Bolling noted that the decision to seek a trademark for Artscape was made by previous leadership. She added that City Hall asked BOPA to withdraw the application and BOPA complied.

This is not the first time the council has criticized BOPA during budget season. Last year, the council voted to cut $196,000 from the public-private agency after then-CEO Donna Drew Sawyer could not explain how money the office received for Artscape in 2020 and 2021, which was cancelled both years, was spent.

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In January, Sawyer quit after Mayor Brandon Scott called for her resignation, citing the agency’s cancellation of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade. The BOPA CEO is not a direct mayoral appointee; instead, they report to the public-private agency’s board. Scott later organized the parade with City Hall.

BOPA has not named an interim CEO. Board chair Brian Lyles, who is the director of development at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, is currently leading the organization.

According to federal documents, the trademark attempt was made during Drew Sawyer’s tenure. Thompson said she believes the city has filed its own Artscape trademark.

The Banner could not find a registration from City Hall in a federal database. A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The most recent trademark attempt that is publicly available is from a window covering company in Sweden.

“We will address it during their budget hearing,” Ramos said. They cannot do this.”

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“That was our thought as well,” Thompson replied.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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