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Local Cable Company Finds Name Is No Game

The local division of a national cable television provider has filed suit against a Santa Ana-based satellite TV company, claiming the company unfairly used names too similar to its own.

Time Warner Cable of San Diego filed the suit against LA Activations, Inc. on Jan. 9, claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of California in San Diego, seeks a permanent injunction barring the company from using several of its 800 phone number lines to misdirect existing and potential Time Warner customers.

LA Activations is an authorized retailer of DirecTV products and services. DirecTV, which is based in El Segundo and is part of the DirecTV Group, Inc., is not named in the lawsuit.

Time Warner Cable claims that LA Activations filed numerous fictitious business names “confusingly similar” to the name Time Warner. Records from the Orange County clerk’s office show those names to be “Time Warn,” “Time Warn Cabling and Satellite,” “Time Warne,” and “Time Warned.”

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According to Marc Farrar, the vice president of public affairs for Time Warner Cable of San Diego, LA Activations executives used those fictitious business names to set up 800 phone numbers that were listed with 411 directory services so that callers to 411 asking for Time Warner would be misdirected to DirecTV salespeople. Farrar said an investigation into the use of those 800 phone numbers was launched by Time Warner 2 & #733; months ago after a customer called complaining about being misdirected.

On Jan. 11, a judge in the case granted a temporary restraining order barring LA Activations from using those phone numbers attached to the fictitious business names in question.


Not Answering

Calls to LA Activations were answered by an automated system recording eventually connected to sales personnel and all requests to speak to a company official were denied, but Robert Mercer, a spokesman for DirecTV’s corporate offices, said there are “thousands” of authorized DirecTV retailers nationwide and his company does not know whether there is any wrongdoing in this case.

“We do not, we cannot be aware of every single activity they engage in,” Mercer said.

Mercer added that although authorized DirecTV retailers are independent contractors and not direct agents of the satellite program provider, companies such as LA Activations sign contracts agreeing to not engage in unfair business practices, and if they do, they risk losing the right to sell DirecTV products and services.

Mercer said there have been cases where authorized retailer agreements have been terminated for various reasons, but none for the allegations stated in the Time Warner Cable vs. LA Activations suit.

Between January 2001 and December 2005, at least 80 fictitious business names were filed by LA Activations with the Orange County clerk’s office, according to county records. In addition to the alleged variations of Time Warner, those filings include “Adelph Cabling and Satellite,” “Adelphea,” “Chart Cabling and Satellite,” “Chartar,” “Coax,” and “Coax Cabling and Satellite.”

David Grabert, a spokesman for Cox Communications’ corporate offices in Atlanta, said that his company is aware of the Time Warner Cable suit and is paying close attention, but does not have any immediate plans to file a similar lawsuit against LA Activations. Cox’s division in San Diego serves some 535,000 customers.

Farrar of Time Warner Cable said his company initiated legal action because a customer complaint sparked the issue and monetary damages may be incurring as a result of redirected calls for service and upgrades.

“Well there’s certainly been damage done, but I don’t know that we’ve taken the steps to quantify it yet,” Farrar said, noting any specific monetary damages would have to be determined by the court if the case goes to the trial phase.

Time Warner customers in San Diego County total approximately 200,000 and include those households with TV, phone and Internet services. Most of those customers live in the northern half of the city of San Diego, the city of Coronado and a portion of Poway. Time Warner Cable of San Diego also has about 145,000 customers in Riverside County and Barstow.

According to the lawsuit, the vast majority of product and service orders received by Time Warner are received via customer service representatives answering incoming telephone calls.

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