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Former Light City partners file counterclaim against Baltimore city

 Brooke Hall, left, and Justin Allen of What Works Studio, which partnered with Baltimore city earlier this year on Light City Baltimore, is now being sued by the city for alleged unauthorized use of the ‘Light City’ name. ‘I am not surprised they are attacking us after not holding up their end of the deal,’ Allen says. ‘We look forward to our day in court and having justice be served.’ (File photo)

Brooke Hall, left, and Justin Allen of What Works Studio, which partnered with Baltimore city earlier this year on Light City Baltimore. (File photo)

The former partners in Baltimore’s Light City festival being sued by the city over the trademark to the name responded Friday with counterclaims for unfair competition, trademark infringement, fraud and civil conspiracy.

The city is seeking a court order to block What Works Studio LLC and Light City LLC from using the phrase “Light City” in their marketing efforts, according to electronic court filings, and argues it has a “common-law” trademark in the phrase because of its first use in commerce.

In their counterclaim, the former partners allege they own the common law trademark in Light City and that the idea for the festival was conceived as early as 2010 with the name following in 2013.

In an open letter to the city published Monday, What Works’ Justin Allen and Brooke Hall said the lawsuit has diminished the potential of the festival.

“By not honoring their word, attempting to take what’s not theirs, and then suing us in an unnecessarily public way, (Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts Inc.) is in direct opposition to the spirit of Light City,” the letter states.

Allen and Hall also wrote that the promotional office and the Baltimore Festival of the Arts Inc. were ‘fiscally irresponsible by spending more money on the festival than was raised.’

The first large-scale international light festival in the United States, Light City Baltimore attracted more than 400,000 people for the week-long event in early spring and was estimated to have had an economic impact of nearly $34 million. Plans are under way for a Light City Baltimore 2017 in late March and early April, according to the city’s complaint.

The counterclaim alleges the city has expropriated the Light City marks and claimed them as their own, which is likely to cause confusion among the public and damage the reputation of the counterclaim plaintiffs.

The counterclaim also alleges fraud because the former partners were told the promotional office, which eventually took over the conference portion of the festival, had no interest in taking ownership of the conferences.

The city claimed it dropped What Works Studio and the other former partners for their alleged failure to book speakers for the conference. The city subsequently assigned those tasks to BFAI and BOPA.

The case is Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al. v. What Works Studio LLC et al., No. 1:16-cv-03486-ELH.

Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer Steve Lash contributed to this report.

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