Teen's charity name draws the McIre of McDonald's

You couldn't blame Lauren McClusky of Chicago if she were a bit squeamish about using her last name in this story without fear of reprisal from Ronald McDonald and his legal posse.

For McClusky, 19, finds herself at the center of a thorny dispute that involves a series of charity concerts she's put on over the past three years. She dubbed the event "McFest" (more on that in a moment) -- but McDonald's sees that as an infringement on its trademarks, something the McDonaldland lawyers refer to as "the McFamily of brands."

These include (deep breath): McPen, McBurger, McBuddy, McWatch, McDouble, McJobs, McShirt, McPool, McProduct, McShades, McFree, McRuler, McLight -- and even the prefix "Mc" itself.

"But not McFest," pointed out McClusky, who declined to change her last name for this story. "The whole reason I called it McFest in the first place is my name."

Her original co-chair for the first McFest also shared the "Mc" prefix in her surname, so it seemed a natural. And indeed, not a single McDonald's attorney seemed to object in 2007 and 2008, when McClusky's McFests raised $30,000 for the Chicago chapter of Special Olympics.

But when McClusky applied to have the McFest name protected, McDonald's filed an opposition. So instead of donating funds from her 2009 concert to Special Olympics, McClusky's had to hire lawyers to answer a series of administrative proceedings McDonald's filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To date, it's cost her roughly $5,000 -- money she wishes had gone to Special Olympics kids instead of attorneys.

The daughter of independent radio promoter Jeff McClusky, Lauren McClusky could of course just change the event name. But that would involve starting from square one in terms of the awareness and name recognition she's already created for her concert series. "It's hard to change the name of something that's already established and locally known," she said.

As for McDonald's actions, McClusky says she's frustrated by the company's desire to clamp down on and in effect penalize a charity event -- especially when McDonald's supports Special Olympics as well. "It has nothing to do with food, arches or their colors," she said. "And our M's are pointy, not curved."

McClusky hopes for a truce that will allow her to keep the McFest name. Still, she's unwilling to make a corporate sponsorship tradeoff along the lines of "McDonald's Presents McFest." For their part, McDonald's representatives maintained that they have no desire to squash McClusky's charitable efforts, and desire an "amicable resolution."

"However, the law requires us to guard against third parties that infringe our trademarks and to take the necessary action to stop those infringements," said McDonald's spokeperson Ashlee Yingling. "We believe the mark at issue, 'McFest,' is similar enough to our brand name and McDonald's famous family of 'Mc' trademarks that it's likely to cause confusion under trademark standards and/or dilute our valuable trademark rights." The company declined further comment, citing the pending litigation -- or, if you prefer, further McLegal action.

McClusky said that at first, she was "kind of honored" that McDonald's would even care enough to respond to her McFest trademark applications. "But when we realized how serious it was, then it just got ridiculous and offensive. They just wouldn't listen."
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