Family in trademark fight with Museum of Vancouver
Robert Jir, owner of the trademark to Vancouver's iconic Smilin' Buddha sign, Burnaby, B.C. on Monday November 4, 2013. Jir says the Vancouver Museum has been allegedly unlawfully using the image on merchandise. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)
The man who registered the trademark for the iconic Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret sign says the use of the image by others is making him frown.
In 1962, Robert Jir’s father took over the East Hastings nightclub that would become the centre of Vancouver’s punk rock scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before then, the club’s sign, depicting a chubby buddha with a flashing belly, was already a landmark among the city’s abundant neon offerings.
The sign would later grace a 54-40 album cover and now sits in the Museum of Vancouver. Who owns the rights to the design of the sign is now at issue again
With a Living History tour night scheduled for later this month to discuss the club’s importance and talk of its reopening under the name Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret surfacing, this has Jir concerned.
He said the MOV and others are using the sign’s design for merchandising despite him holding the trademark registration.
“It’s history, my father handed it to me,” Jir said at his Burnaby coffee shop Monday, surrounded by T-shirts and other Smilin’ Buddha merchandise he sells. “I promised my father on his death bed that I would never sell the house and I would never let the club go, I’d keep it in the family.”
In 1997, Jir trademarked the sign’s design and renewed it this year through 2027.
But the MOV, which also sells merchandise depicting the sign said it doesn’t believe Jir’s claim to the trademark is valid, partly because he hadn’t used it for a long period of time.
“From what we can tell he actually registered for the trademark long after the club had closed,” said Debbie Douez, the MOV director of development and marketing. “I suppose we should just try and get the trademark ourselves. We haven’t gone to that because these things are costly and we’re a nonprofit.”
She added when the sign was made it was merely rented to the club and owned by its manufacturer, Wallace Neon, who sold out to another company. Because of that, Douez argued the trademark doesn’t hold up.
Intellectual Property lawyer David Wotherspoon said despite the history of the sign’s ownership, having the trademark registered gives Jir a strong case to demand exclusive use of the design.
Douez said the merchandise the museum sells with the design, including in a deal with Murchies Tea, brings in about $500 annually.
Over the years, acts such the Dead Kennedys, Husker Du, D.O.A., Cheech and Chong and a young Jimi Hendrix, among others, played at the Buddha.