An attorney representing Knox County Schools said the public's interests wouldn't be served if a court orders an injunction forcing the district to stop selling school coupon books and they don't believe the plaintiff has a case.
Last week, a Knoxville business owner and business partner of the school district filed charges alleging the district violated copyright and trademark law by cutting him out of the coupon book deal. That businessman, Michael Ward argued the longer Knox County Schools could sell coupon books this year, the more money he would lose.
Court paperwork filed September 16 outlines the school district's position on the injunction.
Martha McCampbell, an attorney for the district argues it is not highly likely Ward will win the civil suit, therefore that injunction should not be granted. McCampbell argues Ward filed for a trademark on the supplemental register rather than principal registration of the phrase "school coupon". In court filings, McCambell said there is a major distinction between the two registries with the supplemental register don't have the same protection as those trademarks on the principal register.
Additionally, the district argues Ward did not play a role in designing the coupon book. Ward got involved in 1994 but McCampbell points out the booklet itself was established in 1989. Knox County Schools argues if Ward did not create the coupon book, there is no way he copyright it.
A former partner of Knox County Schools is arguing trademark infringement and asking a federal judge to stop the sale of 2011's school coupon books.
Michael Ward, described in his attorney's filings as a "local entrepreneur and pioneer in the fundraising industry" helped design the coupon book used to raise money for education in Knox County. Ward worked under the company name of Feredonna Communications and partnered with the school district for almost two decades on the program, starting in 1994.
The coupon book program has been successful by most accounts in Knox County. The money goes toward things like encyclopedia access for students and a career awareness program for 8th graders. Since its inception, the district has raised about $25 million through more than 2.8 million coupon books sold.
Late Tuesday, Ward's attorney, Russell Egli filed a complaint and petition seeking permanent relief in the case. They argue trademark and copyright infringement and that Knox County essentially cut Ward out of the agreement while continuing to use Ward's book design.
Ward alleges in the court documents that he also did substantial work recruiting businesses to sponsor the book and offer discounted services as part of the coupon offering. Several features of the book, such as putting top-selling student's faces on the cover were Feredonna's idea, according to the suit.
Shortly after the partnership started, Egli says Feredonna trademarked the use the of the words "School Coupons". In the lawsuit they notified Knox County Schools of the registration, which went uncontested. Then, around 1998 Feredonna started claiming copy rights to the School Coupon books and their design, format, and layout.
For example, Feredonna registered the Internet domain name www.schoolcoupons.com. In the suit, the company claims Knox County Schools then registered for the site www.schoolcoupons.org and relinquished the site after Feredonna claimed infringement.
The company said they want the court to order an injunction to stop Knox County from moving forward with selling coupon books that violate what they believe to be intellectual property rights. Egli said each day the district is able to sell the coupon books it costs Ward money.
Thursday afternoon, a Knox County Schools spokeswoman said the district could not comment on the legal situation, pointing at the open civil case.
At this point, the case has not gone in front of a judge. In fact, according to Egli only half of the parties named in the lawsuit have been served. Best case scenario, Egli estimates his client and the district will have a hearing sometime next week.
Until that judge's ruling, Knox County Schools can continue to sell the coupon books, with 78% of each book sold going back to student educational needs.
Recently, Ward and two companies believed to be under his leadership were outbid on a school district request for proposals that related to printing the school coupon books. Ward's companies, PrintVenture and WeDo Fundraising submitted identical bids of $237,500 for the project.
PrintVenture had unpaid property taxes in Knox County at the time of the bid. According to Knox County Trustee there are two properties under Printventure's name, one of which has a balance of nearly $20,000 currently with no tax payments made since 1999.
The winning bidder, a company named Walsworth Publishing Company bid under $80,000 for a contract that was determined solely by price according to Knox County's Purchasing Department.
Feredonna and Ward say they do not want to limit the district's fundraising ability all-together.
"Plaintiffs do not seek to enjoin Knox County Schools from conducting any fund raising efforts at all. Anyone who claims otherwise is being disingenuous, if not slanderous," the lawsuit states.