SPORTS SPECTACULAR: DALLAS vs. HOUSTON IN THE LEGAL BOWL

You may think the hottest rivalry in the world of Texas sports is the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Houston Oilers. Wrong. The most bitter battle being waged these days is Texas Sports vs. Texas Sports. The play-by-play goes like this:

In January of 1978, a fellow named Larry Meeks was sitting in the bar of the Playboy Club in Dallas talking football with some friends, when he had a brainstorm: How about a magazine of Texas sports? Great idea, everybody agreed. Meeks let the idea grow in his head until, about a year later, he made a proposal to his new employer, Bill Windsor, president of Dallas-based Windsor Communications, publisher of a group of successful trade publications for the “printed apparel industry.” Windsor loved the idea and, after several months of planning, Texas Sports magazine was nearly a reality, the premiere issue in preparation. All was rosy for Windsor until, on October 9th, his secretary received a phone call. “Hello,” the caller said, “I’m the publisher of Texas Sports magazine. I’d like to speak to Bill Windsor.” A baffled Bill Windsor soon learned he was speaking with Gary Easterly, who informed him that his company, Texas Sports Publications Inc., in Houston, was on the verge of publishing a new magazine called, ahem, Texas Sports. What was more, said Easterly, he had a registered trademark on the name.

It seems that over the same period of time that Windsor had been hatching his project, Easterly (formerly the publisher of Houston City magazine) had been doing the same thing, each unaware of the other. In the aftermath of their mutual discovery (and Windsor’s discovery that Easterly’s financial backer was none other than Robert Sakowitz, of department store fame), an amazing legal battle has erupted, complete with suits and countersuits and allegations of spying and counterspy-ing. The publishers have also engaged in a race for public legitimacy: Windsor went ahead and published a 32-page inaugural issue (really more of a model for potential advertisers) and Easterly has distributed a slick 4-page subscription mailing bedecked with the smiling faces of a host of Texas’ most prominent athletes and coaches. But the real issue will be decided in court: Who owns the name? (Easterly did propose an out-of-court settlement by which Windsor could buy him out, but Windsor decided the price was too high.) The legal entanglements are too complex to delineate here, but the essence of the suit is the validity of Easterly’s trademark. Both publishers and their attorneys are convinced that they have the upper hand and neither shows any sign of backing down. “Even if by some incredible legal fluke we don’t get the rights to the name,” says Windsor, “we’ll publish under another name [probably Lone Star Sports]. But that won’t happen. We’re in this thing for the duration.” “I haven’t even considered another name,” says Easterly, “because it’s almost an impossibility that the courts would void our trademark. We’ve got the trademark and that’s it. Windsor is trying to string this thing out legally, thinking we’ll get cold feet. Bob Sakowitz and I don’t get cold feet.”

Should be an exciting second half, sports fans.

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