WRA smells a rat
Willy Whistler, Whistler’s newest — and oldest mascot — is causing a bit of a stir at the Whistler Resort Association.
Willy Whistler is an affable rodent designed to promote the resort and spread good will to visitors at various functions. The WRA designed the original Willy Whistler, but hasn’t used the mascot much in recent years.
West Vancouver entrepreneur James Millership saw an opportunity and stepped in. He says he created his Willy Whistler mascot completely independent of the WRA. Willy made his first (new) appearance at the municipality’s 20th anniversary bash Sept. 9. Since then, Millership says, Willy Whistler has made 17 special appearances in six weeks and is growing in popularity.
But if the WRA has its way, Willy may be relegated to a spot in history, as the resort association has initiated "cease and desist" orders against Millership and the Willy Whistler Production Co. Ltd.
In an Oct. 19 letter to all WRA commercial sector members, Jim Watson, WRA vice president of finance and administration, told members that Millership does not "have the authorisation of the Whistler Resort Association to use the Willy Whistler logo, mascot or name for any purpose. The Whistler Resort Association takes the position that the Willy Whistler logo, mascot and name are the property of the Whistler Resort Association pursuant to the trademark and copyright laws of Canada."
According to Millership "that information has been circulated in error." Millership says he has not received a legal order from the WRA and he is going to continue offering Willy Whistler, free of charge, for any event or promotion. He has letters of support for his concept from the mayor and other individuals in Whistler. He has also applied to trademark his Willy Whistler concept and name. The WRA applied for a Willy Whistler trademark in 1982 and abandoned that application in 1987.
"I approached the WRA in February of 1995 with the ideas I had and they really didn’t make a lot of time to discuss the issue with me," Millership says. "They really weren’t that interested and now they feel that the whole Willy Whistler thing is going well and they want in on the action."
The basic Willy Whistler costume — made of soft foam, so he can sit down on chairlifts and ride bicycles — cost Millership about $5,000, roughly one-third of what he has spent on the venture to date. Accessories for the costume are extra.
Willy’s appearances are free. He will not endorse or promote anyone’s products, but Millership is preparing a commercial line of Willy Whistler items to support the mascot. Images of Willy Whistler skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking and windsurfing will be on shirts, hats and other clothing items sold in local stores.
Plans to use the new Willy Whistler on T-shirts and hats was the reason why the cease and desist letter was written, says WRA president David Thomson, adding Millership had "two different sets" of meetings with WRA department heads and could not come to an agreement over the use of the Willy Whistler name and the rodent itself.
Thomson says Millership wants exclusive rights to the Willy Whistler name, trademark and logo. Although Millership is promoting Willy as free, Thomson says the use of the name and logo may cost WRA members in the future and the resort association has allowed members to use Willy’s name and face for free in the past.
"This is not a money issue for the WRA," says Thomson. "The potential is there for members to have to pay for something that has been free in the past... there are Willy Whistler hats and T-shirts out there."
Thomson says he hopes the issue can be resolved prior to going to court.
"Obviously, something like this you would hope can be resolved because there are a lot bigger problems in the world than Willy," he says.