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Town contests trademarking Montauk's Ditch Plains beach

A woman exits the water after surfing at

A woman exits the water after surfing at Ditch Plain Beach in Montauk. (June 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Town of East Hampton is formally opposing a Hauppauge-based clothing company's application to trademark the name of a renowned Montauk beach.

The town attorney's office has filed a letter contesting Seena International's application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to have rights to the name "Ditch Plains," a beloved beach known for its surf break.

Opponents have 30 days from Tuesday to file with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

"It's sort of like being excluded from using our own name," East Hampton Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said. "It would be like 'the beach formerly known as Ditch Plains.' "

Kevin Fritz, a Manhattan-based attorney originally from Huntington who has surfed at Ditch Plains, brought the issue to the town board's attention. Fritz is involved in separate litigation against Seena International.

Attorneys who filed the trademark application for Seena International had no comment.

"It's a very near and dear name, and a place that we don't feel needs to have a trademark," Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said. "You don't want to have someone else using the name that really talks about a community and a place."

Beachgoers and surfers at Ditch Plains last week were hostile to the trademark attempt.

"It's a tight-knit, close community and people really care about the beaches," said Jay Levine, 64, of Montauk, who has surfed at Ditch Plains since the late 1960s. "Nobody can own the name of a community. Can someone trademark the United States of America?"

Lawyer Keith Weltsch of Garden City, who specializes in trademark law, said it is possible to register trademarks associated with a geographic location, but "essentially impossible" to register one that is "geographically misdescriptive."

"As a result, obtaining a registration for Ditch Plains, if they have nothing to do with Ditch Plains, probably would be hard to do," Weltsch said.

Seena International has been using the "Ditch Plains" name since 2005, but filed its trademark application in April. A previous trademark application in 2008 failed because of potential confusion with metropolitan area restaurants with the same name, according to legal filings.

"When they start paying my taxes, they can use the name Ditch Plains," said surfer Dave Schleifer, 50, of Montauk. "Or when they start adding to the community."

Grant Monahan, 22, who co-owns the Ditch Witch food truck at Ditch Plains with his mother, Lili Adams, said the problem is not a company using the name, but having sole rights to it.

"I grew up right here," he said, pointing to the sand outside Ditch Witch, where he said he ran around as a kid while Adams watched from the food truck. "The fact that someone's trying to claim it as their own who's not from here . . . is wrong. Even if I did it, it would be wrong because I would be taking away from other people. It should be something that is part of the community."

Alice Houseknecht, whose family has owned the East Deck Motel on the beach since 1954, said she uses the name Ditch Plains on the shirts she sells there, and while it is not a big part of the business, she should be able to use the name.

"For a clothing company to feel that they have an exclusive right to the name Ditch Plains is preposterous," she said.


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