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“Amplify” dispute intensifies in Austin

Friday, June 3, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Two well-known businesses are fighting over the word “amplify” in Austin.

Yesterday, I Live Here, I Give Here took the step of formally opposing a federal trademark application by Amplify Federal Credit Union that would prohibit ILHIGH from using the word “amplify” in their fundraising campaigns — most notably the annual “Amplify Austin” fundraising drive that hundreds of Central Texas nonprofits participate in each year.

In a statement to the press, Executive Director of I Live Here, I Give Here Celeste Flores explained what happened, from her perspective.

“In 2015, after using the word amplify in the charitable and philanthropic sector without objection for more than four years, we submitted a federal trademark application for use of the term amplify for that purpose, but Amplify Federal Credit Union filed a formal objection. … We withdrew our application to pursue discussions with them, but to our dismay, Amplify Federal Credit Union filed a new federal application to trademark its use of the word amplify in the philanthropic space. ILHIGH had no choice but to formally oppose Amplify Federal Credit Union’s attempt to prohibit us from using our brand,” she wrote.

ILHIGH has also filed a trademark application with the state of Texas, with plans to file an application with the federal government.

Amplify Federal Credit Union, however, sees it a little differently. In an email to the Austin Monitor, a representative explained that it trademarked “Amplify” in 2006, acquired and began using that domain for charitable purposes in 2009.

Stacy Armijo of Pierpont Communications wrote, “I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH) was aware of that prior to its first giving day, which we know because Amplify had direct conversation with organization representatives about it.” She explained that, in 2015, ILHIGH withdrew a filing to trademark “Amplify Austin” after opposition from the credit union and negotiations between the two entities began, continuing for several months.

“Ultimately, Amplify offered a royalty-free license to ILHIGH and planned to encourage its members to donate to ILHIGH. After that offer was presented and agreed to in principle (at a board meeting attended by Amplify Executive Vice President Kendall Garrison), ILHIGH asked Amplify to make a donation to show its good faith in the offer, which Amplify did in the amount of $25,000,” wrote Pierpont.

“After that point, Amplify did not hear from ILHIGH again until an email was sent from ILHIGH’s board chair to Amplify EVP Kendall Garrison rejecting the prior agreement,” she continued. “In doing so, their counter offer was that Amplify Credit Union would grant ILHIGH a perpetual license to the trademark with no termination period and a commitment to sponsor the organization for a five-year period totaling more than $600,000 in donations.

“Amplify felt ILHIGH had no grounds for such a claim and informed them accordingly, reiterating the prior offer. ILHIGH representatives contacted Amplify via phone after that point, asserting they had no intention of licensing the trademark, stepping away from the negotiating table entirely. No further communication has occurred between the organizations since then and today’s media announcement came as a surprise to Amplify Credit Union.”

Over the years, the Amplify Austin fundraising drive has raised more than $24.7 million for local nonprofits (including Austin Monitor parent company, the Capital of Texas Media Foundation). Amplify Federal Credit Union maintains that it is “committed to the good work that ILHIGH does” and remains open to a “fair licensing agreement to ensure that continues uninterrupted.”

Representatives from ILHIGH stress that costs to support their side of the dispute have been underwritten by a board member and contributor dollars have not been used. Flores also expressed disappointment that the situation remains unresolved at this time.

“We have invested years — and considerable resources — into building the ‘Amplify’ brand in the charitable and philanthropic sector for the good of the community, and more than 600 nonprofits depend on the success of this fundraising campaign. … It is our duty to be good stewards of the brand and to protect our rights to the name in this sector as well as to preserve the investment of many in this community,” said Flores.

“We are disappointed we have to go through this process and that a local business could affect the years of work and millions of dollars invested in this effort to make our community a better place to live and work,” she concluded.

Photo by Marvin Lee from Hong Kong, Hong Kong (Fender EVH AmpsUploaded by clusternote) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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