Judge ready to block Rocky Top, TN, from selling stuff with town name

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An East Tennessee judge has said he is ready to stop developers in the newly minted town of Rocky Top, Tennessee, from using the Rocky Top name on merchandise — at least temporarily.

The former coal mining town of Lake City changed its name to Rocky Top in June on the promise that developers would build a multimillion-dollar tourist complex there.

However, House of Bryant Publications owns the rights to the song “Rocky Top,” a bluegrass standard that doubles as the unofficial anthem of the University of Tennessee. The company tried but failed to stop the name change.

On Wednesday, a federal judge agreed with House of Bryant that developer plans for Rocky Top products would likely infringe on the company’s trademarks.

The situation is complicated by the fact that U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan in May denied a similar request by House of Bryant. In that decision, Varlan said it was too soon to issue an injunction because the developers’ proposals were still just ideas that might never come to pass.

House of Bryant appealed the May decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Although the appeals court has not yet ruled, House of Bryant attorney John Triggs in September asked Varlan to reconsider his decision, based on new facts.

Since the May decision, the developers who formed the Rocky Top Tennessee Marketing and Manufacturing Company have applied to register trademarks incorporating the Rocky Top name as well as the phrase “home sweet home,” according to court documents. That phrase is part of the chorus of the song “Rocky Top,” which declares, “Rocky Top, you’ll always be home, sweet home, to me. Good ol’ Rocky Top. Rocky Top, Tennessee.”

The developers have also announced a partnership with a Knoxville-based clothing distributor to sell apparel and souvenirs bearing the Rocky Top name, according to court documents.

In a Wednesday decision, Varlan agreed to issue an injunction preventing developers from using the Rocky Top name, if the 6th Circuit sends the case back to him. Triggs said in a Thursday phone interview that he intends to ask the appeals court to remand the case within the next few days.

Varlan’s injunction would be temporary, preventing developers from using the Rocky Top name while the lawsuit works its way through the courts. House of Bryant eventually hopes to get a permanent injunction.