The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) yesterday filed a legal challenge to a claim of sole ownership of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) trademarks by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (WC) at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The petition, filed in the District Court of Travis County, Texas, seeks declaratory rulings and a court order requiring that trademark filings by UT be withdrawn.
Although the partners—ASLA, WC, and the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG)—have worked together productively over the years, a dispute over SITES’ trademarks arose earlier this year. Despite joint development of the trademarks and the parties’ oft-stated joint ownership of all SITES intellectual property, UT took it upon itself to file applications for registration of the trademarks in the name of the University of Texas Board of Regents. This unilateral action was undertaken over the strenuous objection of ASLA. Upon being pressed for the basis for its action, UT has taken the position that it is the sole and exclusive owner of the trademarks. This assertion is factually and legally wrong and cannot stand. In an effort to avoid legal action, ASLA has made numerous attempts to resolve the issue with the Wildflower Center and UT leadership and legal counsel. However, UT has refused to withdraw the trademark filings and reconsider its claim of sole ownership.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative has the potential to affect a significant market transformation and inspire a new, collective ethic of environmental stewardship in land planning, design, construction, and maintenance. We particularly regret this unfortunate distraction as the SITES project is now at a pivotal moment in its development, with the release of SITES v2 and the beginning of open project certification scheduled for later this year. ASLA is committed to working on the SITES project in partnership with the Wildflower Center and U.S. Botanic Garden. However, we cannot accept the improper trademark filings or UT’s claim of sole and exclusive ownership of property that rightfully belongs to the SITES members, jointly.
A copy of the ASLA filing can be read online.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative is dedicated to fostering resiliency and transforming land development and management practices towards regenerative design. The SITES Rating System is a voluntary set of guidelines and performance benchmarks to assess the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of sustainable landscapes. The central message of SITES is that any landscape holds the potential to both improve and regenerate the natural benefits and services provided by ecosystems in their undeveloped state. To date, 23 projects have received certification under a pilot program, and some 60 are continuing to work towards that goal. With the release of the new guide, anyone will be able to pursue certification.
We regret the need to take this action. We look forward to a quick resolution and a successful rollout of SITEs v2.
This message is by Nancy C. Somerville, Hon. ASLA, ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO, and Thomas R. Tavella, FASLA, ASLA President