Last Best Beef, a Nevada company, tangled with Montana and lost in a trademark battle over the phrase “The Last Best Place,” the title of a 1988 book by Montana writer William Kittredge. “Like a fishing line cast a thousand miles out, the phrase became part of the Montana culture,” stated an Oct. 24 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which struck down the company’s claims to the phrase.
The phrase, which has been used by local businesses and as an unofficial state slogan, hadn’t been trademarked, but many Montanans weren’t happy with Last Best Beef’s eight trademark applications for the phrase. So former Montana Sen. Conrad Burns (R) attached a rider to the Commerce Department appropriations bill, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2005, that prohibited the registration, issuance, or enforcement of any trademark for “The Last Best Place.” The rider has been continued in subsequent appropriations bills.
Despite the rider, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in the Eastern District of Virginia sided with Last Best Beef because he was “unwilling to infer from a single sentence in an appropriations bill that Congress intended to undermine or bypass well-established provisions of trademark law in order to protect a single phrase from commercial control,” his September 2006 ruling stated. But the 4th Circuit reversed Lee's decision, finding that Congress “has the power to amend substantive legislation through appropriations riders if it does so very clearly.” And it doesn’t get much clearer than axing one very specific phrase from being trademarked.
Maybe Last Best Beef could use "The Second to Last Best Place." But it doesn't have quite the same ring to it.