The owners of the Baltimore Business Journal have sued a Howard County publication and its owner, alleging copyright infringement, and asking for at least $100,000 in compensatory damages and $200,000 in punitive damages.
Baltimore Business Publications Inc., a subsidiary of American City Business Journals Inc., is also asking the court to prohibit the Columbia Business Journal Co. and Editor and Publisher Edward G. Pickett from using the words "business journal" on any of its publications.
The company publishes the Columbia Business Journal and the Howard County Business Journal, both monthly publications. It also publishes Monday Morning Business Briefs, a weekly business newsletter. It plans to add the Annapolis Business Journal to its stable of publications, beginning next month.
Mr. Pickett has published seven issues of the Columbia and Howard County journals and four issues of the newsletter. The Baltimore Business Journal has been published for a decade.
Robert W. Burdon, president and publisher of the Baltimore Business Journal, said he could not comment on the case.
In the suit filed Friday in U.S. District Court, Baltimore Business Publications accused Mr. Pickett and his Columbia company of "willfully and intentionally embarking on a scheme to usurp and trade upon the good will [Baltimore Business Publications] has created."
The names and typefaces used in the Columbia-based publications are so similar that they "cause confusion, mistake or deception as to the source or origin" of the publications, the suit claims.
The suit asks for the destruction of "all advertisements, labels, signs, prints, business cards, stationery, brochures, or other materials . . . bearing the mark or name Columbia Business Journal, Howard County Business Journal, Annapolis Business Journal, or the Business Journals," along with means of duplicating those names.
Baltimore Business Publications asked for and received an order granting an expedited handling of the case. Mr. Pickett was served with papers yesterday ordering him to produce certain documents within 15 days. A court hearing is expected sometime in October or November.
The suit "is meant to be a threatening gesture," Mr. Pickett said yesterday. "I don't believe they have any grounds whatsoever. We started eight months ago and they didn't say anything for seven issues."
It was his announcement that he was planning to begin publishing in the Annapolis area next month that led to the suit, Mr. Pickett believes. "They decided they were going to rat
tle this guy's cage and rattle it good -- that it would cost so much to defend the suit that I would have to change the name," he said.
Mr. Pickett does not plan to hire a lawyer to defend the suit. "I don't like bullies, and I will not be bullied by them or their lawyers," he said. "I am not a corporation. I am allowed to represent myself."
Anyone who compares his paper with the Baltimore Business Journal would know immediately that they are different publications, Mr. Pickett said. "Nobody in Columbia or Annapolis thinks we're the Baltimore Business Journal," he said. "There has never been any confusion about that."
When making cold calls to potential advertisers, people will sometimes ask if the company is connected with the Baltimore Business Journal, Mr. Pickett said, "but we say no, and that's it."
Mr. Pickett, a former Baltimore newsman who covered the state legislature when Spiro T. Agnew was governor and Marvin Mandel was speaker of the House, developed the idea for a monthly business publication while living in New England.
There were many small, hometown business publications there, he said, but they lacked the market Mr. Pickett believed necessary to support them. When he decided to return to Maryland, he called the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and asked how many businesses were here and how many business publications.
The answer -- "5,800 business and no local business publications"-- convinced him the county provided the market he needed. He began soliciting ads in December and published his first issue in January.
The company is essentially a mom and pop operation. He wrote the stories -- 27 the first issue -- and his wife sold the advertising. "We made a profit with the first issue and continue to do so," he said.
"We are quite different from a business weekly," he said. "We can't beat anyone. The value of concentrating on a specific geographic area is that we can do a lot of features, provide background and offer information of value. We can cover the local business community very nicely.
"We're not going to go out of business. We are going to publish a business publication in lots of places."