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National gay fraternity sues similar group with UO chapter.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

A psi is not a phi.

But the country's first fraternity for gay men - Delta Lambda Phi - is suing the gender-neutral "frarority" Delta Lambda Psi, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition.

A University of Oregon Delta Lambda Psi organization is among the suit's defendants. The lawsuit was filed late last month at the Eugene federal courthouse by Delta Lambda Phi's national organization in Washington, D.C. The complaint also targets the nation's first Delta Lambda Psi organization, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a recently organized chapter at Northeastern Illinois University.

The suit states that Delta Lambda Phi was founded in 1986 "to promote the interests of gay, bisexual, transgender and progressive students," and has used the acronym DLP since at least 2001. The fraternity has 30 chapters in 19 states and Quebec, and "enjoys a remarkable degree of brand recognition and goodwill," the suit says.

The fraternity's website says it is a "social fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men." The fraternity reported annual revenues of $228,000, annual expenses of $174,000, and assets of $190,000 in its latest filing with the IRS in April.

The fraternity charges that a group of "unaffiliated gay students" at UC Santa Cruz attended a 2005 conference focusing on gay issues and encountered representatives of Delta Lambda Phi, prompting the Santa Cruz students to form Delta Lambda Psi on their campus. They also began using DLP to promote and identify themselves as a college social organization aimed at gay, bisexual, transgender and progressive students, the suit says.

(The Greek letters Phi and Psi are both written simply as "P" in English; phonetically, Phi is pronounced like the word "fie" and Psi is pronounced like the word "sigh.")

The suit says the frarority's use of a name that differs by only a single letter - Phi vs. Psi - "has already caused many examples of actual confusion" and is an effort to "capitalize from the goodwill" earned by the older group.

"This confusion has been compounded by (Delta Lambda Psi's) use of DLP to identify itself on Twitter, MySpace and in its founding documents," the complaint alleges, saying continued such use is likely to cause continued "confusion, mistake and deception."

The suit says the Santa Cruz student group "intends to expand its use of the 'infringing' (trademark) by opening at least one new chapter at the University of Oregon in Eugene."

A spokesman for Delta Lambda Psi in Santa Cruz denied any affiliation with a UO club of the same name listed on a website of UO Greek organizations. The Eugene Delta Lambda Psi group has no listed phone number or address, and UO students who appear to be associated with social media listings of the group's activities have not responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

The Delta Lambda Phi complaint says the Delta Lambda Psi organization is "very similar to and competes with" the 27-year-old fraternity. Delta Lambda Phi applied to trademark its name in March of this year, the complaint says, and is asking a judge to permanently bar Delta Lambda Psi from using that name or DLP. It also seeks undisclosed financial damages and court costs.

D.J. Bott, a spokesman for Delta Lambda Psi in Santa Cruz, says there are clear differences between the two groups.

"Delta Lambda Psi respects Delta Lambda Phi and the alternative that it provides for gay men," he said. But "unlike any fraternity or sorority, Delta Lambda Psi created the world's first gender- neutral frarority ... a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, cisgender, intersex, queer, questioning and ally members."

Delta Lambda Psi does not compete with Delta Lambda Phi, he said, "believes there is no merit to the lawsuit, and hopes that student groups can focus their energies on fostering respect, friendship and community service - rather than suing each other."

In a statement released this week through its lawyer, John Mansfield of Portland, Delta Lambda Phi contended that its activities extend beyond improving educational, social and service opportunities for gay men.

"DLP frequently collaborates with other organizations to further the rights and privileges of individuals in society, and to present a strong and positive image (that) respects the diversity of all individuals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity," the statement said. It also said Delta Lambda Phi "reached out to Delta Lambda Psi to try to resolve this dispute amicably."

"Although Delta Lambda Psi responded to initial inquiries, Delta Lambda Psi began delaying and refusing to address the serious harm and actual confusion caused by its infringement of DLP's trademarks. Delta Lambda Psi's opening of a new chapter at the University of Oregon in Eugene has made the need to address this harm particularly urgent. DLP initiated legal action against Delta Lambda Psi only after failing to resolve this dispute with it over the summer and fall."

According to "The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality," the Greek letter lambda has been a symbol for gay rights since the 1970s, when New York City's Gay Activists Alliance selected the letter as its emblem. Lambda Legal, founded in 1973, is the country's oldest and largest legal organization devoted to protecting and advancing the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV.
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Title Annotation:Courts; Delta Lambda Phi accuses the newer Delta Lambda Psi of trademark infringement
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 9, 2012
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