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US: Of Dr. Seuss and Coal Gasification

by Colin MinerNY Times
February 25th, 2010

The company that protects the copyrights on the works of Theodor Geisel, better known as the children’s book author Dr. Seuss, has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Massachusetts company looking to get into the coal business under the name Lorax — the title character of a story published in 1971.

“There’s no reason for them to use the term,” said Karl ZoBell, the longtime lawyer for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, “except to purloin the good will attached to the book and use it for a company that appears to be the opposite of everything the book is about.”

The Lorax” is considered an allegory about the importance of protecting the environment and the perils of unchecked industrialization.

The company, calling itself LoraxAG, is a startup based in Marlborough, Mass., seeking to develop a “shovel-ready coal gasification and chemical production facility to make fertilizer for America’s farms,” according to the company’s Web site.

In November, the magazine Massachusetts High Tech reported that LoraxAG had acquired $4.5 million in its first round of institutional funding.

>Representatives of the company did not immediately return phone calls and e-mail queries. The company’s president, Mike Farina, told Massachusetts High Tech that the company has “altruistic” motives and that it will use existing technologies in new ways, allowing them to turn coal into something clean and useful.

“We like this project because of what we can bring to a part of the country that can really use some economic development,” said Mr. Farina, adding that they purposely looked to Dr. Seuss to name their company.

“The Lorax is the protector of the truffula trees,” he told the publication. “We think this is the greenest use of coal.

Mr. ZoBell said that while that may or may not be true, it is still using coal and, regardless, “we do not license the use of Dr. Seuss’s works for other companies to make a profit.

“They should be creative enough to come up with their own name for their company,” he said. “Dr. Seuss coined this phrase. The term did not exist until he invented it.”

Mr. ZoBell said that the courts “tend to be particularly protective of trademarks” where invented phrases and terms are involved.

The company had not responded to the cease-and-desist letter by midday Monday, according to Mr. ZoBell, who added that his office would reach out to LoraxAG again and then, if necessary, seek relief — and possibly damages — from the courts.

“I am amazed that nobody suggested to them that this is a bad idea,” he said.

In an e-mail message to Green Inc., LoraxAG’s chief executive, Joshua E. Davidson, simply said: “We have not received a cease-and-desist letter and, as such, have no further comment.”

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