Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium sued over upcoming Asian Lantern Festival

PITTSBURGH — The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has sued the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, accusing the Pittsburgh Zoo of copyright infringement over the name of an upcoming summer festival.

Filed last week in federal court in Ohio, the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District --also known as Cleveland Metroparks Zoo -- accuses Pittsburgh Zoo officials of using the Asian Lantern Festival name without permission, and potentially confusing visitors of both attractions.

According to the lawsuit, Cleveland Metroparks announced their Asian Lantern Festival in 2018, an event that would feature more than 40 displays and hundreds of lighting installations. The Cleveland Metroparks “performed its due diligence to ensure the name was not being used elsewhere,” the lawsuit states.

More than 165,000 people attended the Cleveland Metropark’s Asian Lantern Festival in 2020, despite the pandemic, generating $2.6 million in revenue. Many ticket buyers were from Western Pennsylvania and the Youngstown, Ohio area, which is about halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also accuses Pittsburgh Zoo officials of visiting the Cleveland Metroparks in 2020 during it’s Asian Lantern Festival “to determine whether Pittsburgh Zoo would like to host a light show of its own.”

Cleveland Metroparks announced on June 15 that the Asian Lantern Festival would again take place at their zoo from July 14-Sept. 5, 2021.

A week later, the Cleveland zoo learned that the Pittsburgh Zoo had entered a contract with the same vendor and announced their inaugural Asian Lantern Festival would take place from Aug. 14-Oct. 30.

Both festivals are advertising at the same time and appear in the same searches on Google, according to the lawsuit, and the Pittsburgh Zoo is also using photographs of lanterns from Cleveland’s Asian Lantern Festival to create advertisements for its light show.

On June 25, Cleveland Metroparks emailed the Pittsburgh Zoo to tell them that they had the trademark to the event name and requested a rebrand of the event.

Last week, counsel for Pittsburgh Zoo sent a letter to Cleveland Metroparks asserting that Cleveland cannot claim trademark rights on the Asian Lantern Festival mark. The letter also said that Pittsburgh Zoo would consider renaming next year’s event, but made no guarantee.

Cleveland Metroparks is asking the court to stop the Pittsburgh Zoo from using the Asian Lantern Festival name and cease promotion of the event, in addition to payment of damages, fees and other costs.

Attorneys for the Pittsburgh Zoo filed a response in court this week that says, in part that Cleveland Metropark’s suit represents an “audacious attempt to claim intellectual property rights in the phrase ‘Asian Lantern Festival’ for an event grounded in traditions of an Asian cultural festival that has existed for over two millennia.”

The phrase is not protected under trademark, the response says.

The Asian Lantern Festival name has also been used at zoos in Orlando, Des Moines and Louisville, according to Pittsburgh Zoo attorneys.