Big tobacco vs small business owner

4 min read

Awesome Thursdays. We can see you over there, Mr. Weekend.

Will Spencer’s frustration was on full display.

A businessman who operates a small museum housing Winston Cup racing memorabilia, Spencer has been ensnared for months in a complicated legal battle with ITG Brands, LLC. over ownership of the items.

In essence the lawsuit — three, actually, as two have been dismissed — is a fight over trademarks and branding as ITG, a corporate entity that has controlled the Winston brand name since UK-based Imperial Brand bought Winston, Kool and Maverick from Reynolds American and Lorillard Inc., wants to assert its rights.

It’s complicated. That’s why the case was transferred to the NC Business Court earlier this year.

And judging by the language used in court filings and in something called a “joint consent order” that closes the museum for 60 days, it’s tedious — something only patent lawyers, insomniacs or sesquipedal people could love.

People are also reading…

(Sesquipedalian … used to describe someone who overuses big words. I had to look it up.)

The temporary shutdown was ordered from both sides’ goal of “avoiding the significant time and expense that is inherent in any contested injunction proceedings, and affording the parties an opportunity to explore potential resolutions for the disputes that exist between them.”

Get all that? Pity anyone stuck in that jury if it comes to that.

No wonder Spencer is frustrated.

“After much contemplation, I have come to the realization that fighting with ITG is not worth the resources it will take, and the toil it has taken, on me and my family,” he wrote in response to Monday’s order.

Big Tobacco, despite the economic blessings the industry showered on Winston-Salem, Greensboro and North Carolina through manufacturing (Reynolds and Lorillard) and farming, doesn’t play when it comes to proprietary interests.

A small army of lawyers literally spent decades fighting the “no-duh” contention made by medical scientists that smoking — wait for it —can cause cancer and other godawful health effects.

But hey, business is business.

Spencer opened the Winston Cup Museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in 2005. In it, he houses items from the NASCAR championship series sponsored by Reynolds in a genius-level marketing effort.

So basically, ITG has asked a court to bar Spencer, who says he had a storage agreement with Reynolds, from using the collection in the museum and a mobile display.

ITG, in court papers, says the defendants are “advertising themselves in a manner that falsely (suggests) an affiliation with ITG’s Winston Brand and Winston Marks, and marketing or branding its merchandise using ITG’s Winston Brand or Winston Marks during the pendency of this litigation .”

Anyway, what that means is that a lot of people who realize (and appreciate) the nuances of all things tobacco are intently watching what sure looks like a global giant trying to squash a small businessman.

The old man worked nearly his entire adult life in a cigarette plant. Tobacco wages paid for the house where my mother still lives and helped put my brother and me through school.

But my dad also smoked up to three packs a day and died a slow and painful death from throat cancer when he was 58.

So yeah, I get Spencer’s frustration.

“For the time being, if you see any branding that says Winston Cup, Winston Cup Series or Winston Cup Museum, please know that it is not affiliated with myself or any companies that I have ownership in,” his statement reads.

“It will be ITG Brands using the Winston Cup to promote its cigarettes.”

Beltway backups

WINSTON-SALEM — Work on a long overdue ring road planned almost since Michael Jackson moonwalked across MTV will cause traffic shifts and delays.

Contractors hired by the NC Department of Transportation will shift travel on Interstate 74 as part of the Northern Beltway project.

At 9 am July 12 — next Wednesday — Flatiron Construction will begin directing hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles onto a temporary detour from the southbound lanes of I-74 between Ridgewood and Union Cross roads.

The shifts, slow downs and delays, per the DOT, are needed for the construction of a new bridge and travel lanes that will connect the Beltway to I-74.

Work is expected to wrap up the next day. Weather permitting, of course.

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