Novelties sporting the LKN logo have been around Lake Norman for decades. LKN is on bumper stickers, mugs, hats and shirts.
So imagine businesswoman Von Jazbecs surprise when she checked with the state last year to see if the name had ever been trademarked. It hadnt at least not at the lake, she learned.
But that was only the beginning of her odyssey to get an official state service mark for her LKN souvenirs product line.
Jazbec owns Diversified Uniforms LLC, a Mooresville-based apparel and promotional products company. She established LKN Souvenirs and a related store website, lknsouvenirs.com, to sell her lake-themed wine glasses, coffee mugs, embroidered shirts, T-shirts, headwear, mini tote bags and other products.
But someone had trademarked LKN Inc. the owner of an automobile dealership in Burgaw, a town of 4,000 about 25 miles west of Wilmington. The letters stand for the initials of the mans name.
The N.C. Secretary of States office told Jazbec she had to prove she wasnt related to the man or his business, so she called him. Jazbec said it took about six weeks for the man to return her calls and then agree to meet her.
In April 2012, Jazbec and her husband, David, drove four hours to Burgaw in hopes of gaining the dealerships approval to use LKN for their Lake Norman souvenir line.
They left with an agreement that would allow them to use the LKN name on the products they sell. He verbally gave them the OK, she said. But the man also said he had to run it by his attorney, and he promised to get back to them quickly, as they had a deadline from the state to respond, Jazbec said.
Six days after their visit, Jazbec received a one-sentence email from the man saying, I am very sorry, but I wont be able to let you use my trademark.
Jazbec told her husband, Well, I guess thats it, and thought it was over.
Not necessarily, her husband replied.
Jazbec again contacted the trademark division of the Secretary of States office and told an employee of their visit to Burgaw.
Let me do some research on this, and I will get back with you, Jazbec said the employee told her.
Several weeks later, Jazbec received a letter from the state saying she would be granted the service mark. The state determined that her business was location-specific and wouldnt interfere with the Burgaw mans corporate name. Jazbec has the official service mark framed in her home.
Service marks are much more common than trademarks and are granted for specific services in Jazbecs case, providing a service to customers in the form of selling LKN novelties to promote Lake Norman, said Liz Proctor, spokesperson for the Secretary of States office. Trademarks are issued for specific products a company manufactures, she said.
Jazbec also sells her products at such events as Christmas in Davidson and the Craft at the Crossing Art Festival in Huntersville scheduled for April 13, as well as at a few novelty stores.
Being so small a business, I cant afford paid advertising, she said.
Jazbec said in a recent interview at her home that its never been her intent to stop others who might be using LKN in their business names. The LKN service mark is for souvenir products that she will carry in her line, she said. Those interested in carrying such LKN products need to call her company, she said.
Jazbec said her business mission is to offer classy, affordable Lake Norman keepsakes.
Lake Norman is such a beautiful place, she said. Its a means for those that reside here, as well as for those visiting the area, to take a piece of the lake home with them.