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Trademarking Juneteenth: Using the law to protect intellectual property

Indy Juneteenth logo
Posted at 11:43 AM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 11:43:05-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A local couple working to preserve the meaning of Juneteenth in the Circle City is one step closer to its goal.

Last month, Walmart issued an apology after the company was criticized for selling a "Celebration Edition Juneteenth Ice Cream." Critics accused the company of trying to capitalize on the holiday and its history.

Long before that apology, Indy's Juneteenth Celebration was working to make sure that local Juneteenth profits are cycled right back into the Circle City's Black communities.

Now, the group has its very own trademark.

"Protect your brand, protect your idea. Protect whatever you are creating, so you can give yourself a puncher's chance at protecting yourself against the bigwigs, the big corporations," James Webb said.

Webb founded the Indy Juneteenth Celebration with his wife back in 2016, years before the day was commemorated as a federal holiday.

"You gotta be careful what you wish for sometimes because once we do that, we're gonna walk into stores and see Juneteenth cupcakes at Kroger. And I guarantee we'll see more Juneteenth ice creams that's gonna come out," Webb said.

Intellectual property lawyer Trezanay Atkins said if there is money to be made at Juneteeth, that money should support Black communities.

"Because if you buy something from Target, that might not necessarily go to someone who is being celebrated in this event," she said.

Atkins helped Indy Juneteenth, LLC. secure a federal trademark for its logo, a process that took more than a year.

"For a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery — the end of the exploitation of Black people without compensation or any rights at all — it's important that the keepers of culture have something to demonstrate that this is their event. This is not someone who's trying to make money off of the exploitation of Black people," Atkins said.

Historically, trademarks and other forms of intellectual property law were used to exploit marginalized populations.

"If you're a slave, you can't own a patent, because you're not a citizen," Atkins said, as one example.

To this day, intellectual property law can be used by the powerful to exploit creative people who don't know how the law works. Atkins recommends new business owners consult a lawyer before they open shop. Once someone else trademarks what you created, it's often too late.

"People with more money and more resources are always sitting waiting for you to press 'Go,' and if you don't have the right protections, they steal it. I see it happen all the time," Atkins said.

Now Atkins is using the law to fight back. She opened her business, TMA Law — the lawyer for brands, to help people protect themselves. And Indy Juneteenth became one of her clients.

Indy Juneteenth is a non-profit and now that its logo is trademarked, you can look at its symbol, and know your money is being funneled back to the local community.

"A major corporation out of New York or L.A. may not recognize someone from 43rd and High School Road, or someone from 38th and Post on the East side, but Indy Juneteenth recognizes that," Webb said. "That's why we do the food drives, and the clothing drives, and give away the scholarships, so that people know that when they buy a shirt that looks like this, it isn't going to a large corporation, it's going to a mother who is fighting for a scholarship to go back to school. "

For more about Indy Juneteenth's scholarship programs, small business grants, and other community work, visit its website.