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Calif. Appeals Court Shoots Down Mystery House Trademark Lawsuit

October 25, 2012,

Winchester_mansion.jpgOrange County - A California state appeals court on Wednesday declined to revive the popular San Jose tourist attraction the Winchester Mystery House's attempts to keep a film company from using its trademarks in a movie loosely based on the builder of the house.

The 160 room Mystery House was under construction for 38 years starting in 1884, in a quixotic undertaking by Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun manufacturer William Winchester, which only ended with her death in 1922. According to legend, Winchester believed that if she halted construction on the house, she would be haunted by the ghosts of those slain by her husband's weapons.

After Global Asylum Inc. released the film "Haunting of Winchester House," Winchester Mystery House LLC sued the company alleging unauthorized use of its trademarks, among other claims. The trial court granted summary judgment to Global Asylum, and the Mystery House appealed, saying the court failed to look at whether its trademarks have become an integral part of the public's vocabulary.

The trial court properly granted the motion for summary judgment, the California Sixth Appellate District ruled, saying Global Asylum has a First Amendment right to the use of the name.

In 2008 the Mystery House entered an agreement with Imagination Design Works Inc. to use the mansion as a location for the filming and production of a movie, granting IDW exclusive rights to the use of the property and certain trademarks and copyrights relating to its history.

In 2009 the Mystery House received an email from a Global Asylum production coordinator asking about filming location rates for the property. The Mystery House replied that it had granted the exclusive rights to the Winchester story to another company.

The Mystery House learned later that year about Global Asylum's film, and sent it a series of letters informing it of the possible trademark infringement to no avail.

The DVD for "Haunting of Winchester House" features a depiction of a Victorian style structure, and the back cover describes a story in which a family moves into a 160 room mansion only to have a malevolent force abduct their daughter. The cover art, though, does not depict the actual mansion, nor does it feature the phrase Winchester Mystery House anywhere, the appeals court noted.