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Rights to “ABQ” is part of trademark battle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — ABQ, the three letters seen on city websites, airline schedules and dozens of Duke City businesses, is at the center of a trademark tussle over taxi cab names.

The question is whether a company has rights to “ABQ” as part of its business name.

One taxi company argues the three initials can’t be protected because ABQ is a commonly known abbreviation for New Mexico’s largest city. The other side, though, contends the abbreviation is part of its business name that is trademarked and therefore protected.

Albuquerque Cab Co. sued competitors Green Cab LLC and Albuquerque Taxi Service, alleging their use of  “ABQ” as part of their names in signs and on the Internet was violating state trademark law and confusing potential customers. Also named was Shawn Weston owner of the domain name, the suit said.

Albuquerque Taxi Service is an independent cooperative of drivers contracted by Yellow/Checker Cab company of Albuquerque. Green Cab is a taxi service operating in Albuquerue and surrounding areas, and was later dropped from the suit. A bench trial is set for Oct. 17.

Albuquerque Cab said in the suit that it registered the trademark “ABQ CAB Co” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2013 and made a similar registration with the state in 2014. The company, which filed the suit last year in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, is seeking damages, civil penalties and other costs.

Neither Green Cab, whose vehicles signs say “ABQ Green Cab,” nor Albuquerque Taxi, which uses the website, have registered ABQ as a trademark, the lawsuit said.

The defendants said in court filings that the use of “ABQ CAB CO” was not protectable under state or federal trademark law because it consisted of “geographically descriptive and generic terms.”

“It’s not just a geographical descriptor. They’re (the defendants) using it as a business description,” Albuquerque Cab Co. President Dion Hindi, said in an interview.

Green Cab, in a filing, asked the court to acknowledge as fact that ABQ is a commonly used abbreviation. “As anyone who has lived in Albuquerque for more than two weeks knows, … ABQ is commonly used as an abbreviation of Albuquerque,” the filing said.

However, Albuquerque Cab Co.’s attorney said terms like “commonly used” were too vague to be accepted as fact in the court case. The response suggested the letters could refer to a man’s name or the city of Alburquerque in Spain.

Judge Denise Barela-Shepherd denied Green Cab’s request.

David Cuneo, the registered agent of Albuquerque Taxi Service named in the lawsuit, maintains Albuquerque Cab is trying to squeeze him out of business.

“It’s just the big guy going after the little guy,” Cuneo said.