A judge has ruled a local businessman may trademark a version of the familiar, green mile-zero street sign in a million-dollar case expected to stymie other Key West businesses that sell clothes featuring the iconic logo.
A competing business, Oasis, 928 Duval St., must now pay T-shirt shop owner Yaron Wasserman roughly $1 million in damages and attorney's fees for trademark infringement over the logo, according to a 14-page judgment issued by circuit Judge David Audlin on March 8.
The judge ruled that brothers Yonathan Elfasi, Mordechai Elfasi and their business partner, Gai Elbaz, infringed on Wasserman's trademarked Mile Zero logo when they began manufacturing clothes with the same logo and selling them wholesale to other stores.
That put Wasserman's Mile Zero Inc. store at 511 Greene St., which opened in 2003, out of business by 2006, his attorney Hugh Morgan said.
Wasserman trademarked the Mile Zero logo in 1999 via Florida Trademark Registration for a class of products that includes hats, caps, T-shirts and all types and manner of clothing, the judgment states.
Wasserman didn't copyright the logo, but trademarked it under the clothing section of the state trademark law, meaning other businesses can use the green sign to sell just about anything they want -- except clothes, which is now Wasserman's domain, Morgan explained.
"You can open a mile zero fish store, car dealership or movie theater -- anything not protected by his (clothing) trademark," Morgan explained.
Another point that Morgan stressed: Wasserman's logo is not a copy of the famous sign denoting the beginning, or end, of U.S. 1 posted on Whitehead Street. Wasserman's logo has the words Mile Zero on his design, a feature missing from the posted street sign when Wasserman filed his logo trademark in 1999.
The Elfasi brothers and Elbaz could not be reached for comment as they are reportedly in Israel, Morgan said.
That could hinder Wasserman's ability to collect the $900,000 in damages on top of $105,410 in legal fees Audlin ruled that Oasis owes Wasserman.
"We are following up and trying to resolve that at this time," Morgan said.
Meanwhile, Wasserman is not going to sue other businesses that have bought Mile Zero logo products made by Oasis in Key West, Morgan said.
Those stores may sell the remaining products they've bought from Oasis, and as long as no one manufactures more clothes with Wasserman's trademarked logo, the issue should remain settled, Morgan said.
What lies next for Wasserman is unclear.
"His options are this: He can reopen his retail store; he can simply manufacture clothes with his logo and wholesale them; or enter into a license agreement with someone else to manufacture and sell the clothes," Morgan said.