ASPEN - Alpine Banks might be in the business of dealing green, but not the kind sold by Alpine Dank.
And that's why the Glenwood Springs-based financial institution, which runs banks throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and Western Slope, wants to snuff out the Alpine Dank name.
On Friday, Alpine Banks of Colorado filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court against Alpine Dank and its founder, Jeffery Lessard of Basalt and Telluride. Alpine Banks claims that Lessard has created confusion in the marketplace with the Alpine Dank name, and seeks a court injunction to stop Lessard from using the marijuana-inspired moniker.
The problem with Alpine Dank, the bank contends, is that its image and logo "give rise to the mistaken belief that [Alpine Dank's] goods are sponsored, endorsed or somehow affiliated with Alpine Banks and, in addition, that Alpine Banks has taken a stand and supports and/or plays a role in the current public policy debate relating to legalizing marijuana."
Lessard, who runs a pot shop in Telluride, could not be reached for comment Monday. He once was the general manager of the short-lived Basalt Alternative Medicine in Basalt, which closed in November after its lease expired.
But Lessard, according to exhibits in the lawsuit, has been well aware of Alpine Banks' effort to kill the Alpine Dank name. In response to a Feb. 25 letter from Alpine Banks' attorneys demanding he cease and desist using the name Alpine Dank, Lessard fired back saying it would take a payment of at least $1 million for him to stop.
"Alpine Dank has spent several years building a brand that is quite different from that of Alpine Bank," he wrote in a letter dated March 8. "The word Alpine is certainly not owned by Alpine Bank and in fact is a prized word use by many high country businesses throughout Colorado. The word Dank is used in the marijuana industry to describe the quality of products whether it's marijuana or the products associated with it therein. The fact that bank and dank are similar and they even rhyme is merely a coincidence that I'm sure your client regrets not being able to have been present for, when the English language was first being created."
The bank's attorneys, in a letter dated March 15, retorted: "We disagree. ... Business owners are responsible for selected business names, trade names and trademarks that do not infringe upon, or are likely to dilute the distinctive quality of another's trademark. As such, there is no defense of 'mere coincidence' under the law, and therefore no such defense exists in the present case."
In its lawsuit, Alpine Bank claims its reputation has been damaged because of Alpine Dank, "which is confusingly similar to the Alpine Bank mark in terms of appearance, sound and meaning. The name Alpine Dank is identical to the mark Alpine Bank, with the exception of the first letter of the second word."
But Lessard, in his letter, countered that "the trade name Alpine Dank is my intellectual property inspired by the industry I work in, the marijuana industry, just as your client's name was inspired by their industry, the banking industry. I don't see how either business can be confused with the other. Your client's a bank and my company is a novelties business."
Alpine Dank, in its logo, used the identical font that Alpine Bank uses with its corporate logo. And instead of using a tree in its logo like Alpine Bank does, Alpine Dank uses a marijuana leaf, the suit says.
"Upon information and belief, Defendants' selection and adoption of the name Alpine Dank, the circular logo depiction of a marijuana leaf and the font use for the name was calculated purposefully to usurp the goodwill and reputation that Alpine Banks has labored to develop, nurture and protect for nearly 30 years," the suit says.
In his letter, Lessard conceded that he would change his font and logo; but Alpine Bank contends he continues to use it.
Alpine Banks' suit goes on to say that despite Colorado law that makes marijuana legal for medicinal purposes, the U.S. Department of Justice "has recently enunciated its position that it believes all marijuana dispensaries are illegal under federal law and the prosecution of individuals and organizations involved in the trade of any illegal drugs, including marijuana, is a core priority of the Department of Justice."
That point is relevant, the suit suggests, because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has said it won't grant federal trademark registrations to entities that deal with medicinal marijuana related goods and services. Alpine Dank is not a registered trademark, but the monikers Alpine Dank, Alpine Dank Seed Company and Alpine Dank Edibles are registered trade names with the Colorado Secretary of State.
Alpine Bank's lawsuit makes five claims for relief: Unfair competition, federal dilution by tarnishment, trademark infringement, unfair competition under Colorado law, and misappropriation of business values under Colorado common law.
The suit seeks a jury trial and an unspecified amount in treble damages.