Rugby, the Geographical Center of North America

Way back in the ‘30s, the U.S. Geological Survey determined that Rugby, North Dakota is the geographical center of North America.[1] Rugby wasted no time in promoting that distinction to tourists. They erected a 21-foot high cairn and started selling postcards and memorabilia. They first registered their trademark in 1967.[2]

William Bender is the mayor of Robinson, ND, a town about 100 miles south of Rugby. He heard that Rugby’s trademark registration had expired,[3] so he decided he’d go ahead and register GEOGRAPHICAL CENTER OF NORTH AMERICA and capitalize on their mistake.[4]

Gosh, gee, this is all so exciting!

Has Mayor Bender managed to beat Rugby at its own game?

How will Rugby survive without its 85 year-old claim to fame?

Except it isn’t exciting.

We already know the ending to this story. Just because a trademark registration is dead, doesn’t mean the trademark rights are dead. Mayor Bender can’t register a trademark unless he owns the rights and he can’t own the rights unless Rugby’s rights died.

This graph demonstrates my point.


Do you see a gap in the “Common Law Rights” line? Mayor Bender said in his application to the Trademark Office that no one else has the right to use the trademark he’s trying to register.[5] I guess he forgot about Rugby.

It’ll take a little legal work to make Mayor Bender’s registration go away, but Rugby has owned the trademark since the ‘30s and it still does.




Featured image of obelisk by Siego (Gerhard Gorges, 1976) CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL

[1] The USGS stated in its bulletin that the “geographical center on an area may be defined as that point on which the surface of the area would balance if it were on a plane of uniform thickness, or in other words, the center of gravity of the surface.” The USGS found that point to be Latitude 48° 21’ 19′ longitude 99 59 57 West.


Registration number: 0828358. Originally registered in May 1967

[3] Rugby hasn’t been great at keeping track of its trademark registrations. It’s actually allowed three different registration expire. The registration in footnote 2 expired in 1989, it has also allowed both of these registrations to expire:

Registration number: 2210163. Originally registered in March 1989. Expired: March 1997.

Registration number: 2210163. Originally registered in December 1998. Expired July 2009.

[4] Mayor Bender is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: “[Rugby] dropped the ball. Snooze you lose, you know?” Wall Street Journal, December 16, 2016.

[5] The applicant has to make this statement:

“The signatory believes that to the best of the signatory’s knowledge and belief, no other persons . . . have the right to use the mark in commerce, either in the identical form or in such near resemblance as to be likely, when used on or in connection with the goods/services of such other persons, to cause confusion or mistake, or to deceive. The signatory being warned that willful false statements and the like are punishable by fine or imprisonment, or both, . . .”