Hell Yes There is Intrigue and Legal Action in the Field of Calculatedly Generic Lantern Festivals
Water lantern festivals compete for your water lantern dollars.
BY PETE TOTHERO
When I stepped into Laurelhurst Park in Portland, Oregon, last Saturday evening, I expected to find the park as lovely and quiet as it usually is at the end of the day. I assumed there would be the usual clutches of homeless people, a handful of folks smoking joints while watching their friends try to juggle exotic juggling implements the names of which I do not know, and of course people in the Dogs May Run Free and Terrorize Each Other Here area smiling in that determined, nervous way dog park folks smile, since they must be prepared for a dog- or human- or dogs-and-humans fight at any moment.
But that is not what I found at all! What I found instead was a park semi-full of people, all of them either already at, or walking rapidly toward, some kind of Officially Sanctioned Community Event. I knew it was officially sanctioned because evident in great quantity were tents and banners, wristbands and branded knapsacks, the sound of amplified music, and food trucks. No matter where or how I looked, though, I could not discern just what the Officially Sanctioned Community Event was. I could think of no particular holidays in early June. A banner read “Water Lantern Festival,” but I had no memory of lantern festivals in Portland. Because I am an adult of great competence, however, I did what I usually do when confronted with something I don’t understand: I became disoriented and frightened.
I am not the most assiduous reader of the city’s newspapers (like many mid-tier cities, Portland no longer has a daily print paper), and I began to wonder if Portland did indeed have a lantern festival, but I had somehow never heard about or noticed it. Was it possible that through some strange, multiple-decades-long sequence of events, I had never turned to a certain newspaper page, had never clicked the right web links, and had never overheard a conversation about the yearly lantern festival? The more I thought about this, the more I began to talk myself into the idea that this was not just possible, but in fact quite likely. (It is not likely. My thought was stupid.) As I made my way out of the park and toward the store where I was supposed to procure a bucket of ice cream for my mewling family, I found myself walking against the traffic of people who continued to file into the park. Was I so checked out, my citizenship so lazy, that I didn’t even know about Portland’s esteemed Water Lantern Festival?
No. It’s not Water Lantern Festival—it’s just a water lantern festival. I know this because I was so badly shaken by the experience that as soon as I got home and tossed the bucket of ice cream at my ungrateful family members who had no idea what a harrowing experience I had just endured, I ran immediately to the computer and researched like a madman.
What I learned is that some guys in Utah are instituting legal action against some other guys in Utah about who owns what intellectual property regarding the invention of lantern festivals. One World Lantern Festival, LLC, an entity started by gentlemen by the name of Michael Schaefer and David Knight, runs Water Lantern Festival and is claiming to be the inventors of water lantern festivals in toto. (They also own YOLO Enterprises, LLC, almost certainly because Prestige Unlimited was already taken.) They are also claiming that one of their competitors, 1000 Lights, LLC, is run by a former One World employee (what?) who stole not only their idea for putting on generic water lantern festivals (really?) but, according to the claim, also some of their clients (gasp!).
What fascinates me is the way in which One World’s legal complaint describes the specific and unique qualities of the calculatedly generic water lantern festivals they began, in either 2017 or 2018 (it’s a little bit unclear), trying to talk cities into allowing them to host:
When One World first approached venues about the type of events it wanted to host, venues did not immediately understand the concept of floating lantern festivals because no such event existed at the time within the continental United States. Prior to the launch of One World and its Water Lantern Festival events, the term “Water Lantern Festival” meant nothing to people.
Because I work in the financial sector, I regularly look at documents that would be extremely boring to anyone of moderate intelligence who actually values their time, so maybe my filters are screwed up. But I find the entirety of One World’s official complaint hilarious. It turns out that the knapsacks I saw people wearing held paper water lanterns that they would be encouraged to decorate before pushing said lanterns, at sundown, into the park’s fetid little pond. Guess where the lanterns came from?
The floating lanterns provided to participants were custom designed and invented by Schaefer and Knight. The floating lanterns are the product of months of research and development and are vastly superior for these types of events to any other floating lantern publicly available. Knight and Schaefer are currently pursuing a design patent for the floating lantern. The design patent application is currently pending.
So Messrs. Schaefer and Knight claim to have invented paper lanterns—excuse me, to have invented very specific paper lanterns “after months of research and development.”
How much do you think a thin knapsack with a paper lantern inside should cost? Ten bucks? Fifteen? If you are thinking in that neighborhood, you are absolutely not in the neighborhood of people claiming to have invented calculatedly generic lantern events optimized to produce Instagram-ready images of vague well-being. To buy an “Adult Lantern Kit” that includes a paper lantern, a marker, and a wristband for entry to whatever area the festival has managed to rope off, you will need to shell out $25 and also a $5.97 fee for I don’t know what the fee is for. The festival also offers a “Youth Lantern Kit” for $12 and a $2.41 fee, which suggests the fee for I don’t know what it is for scales with the…age of the person? Size of the lantern? But aren’t people already paying for the lantern, whatever size it is, when they buy the “lantern kit?”
I could keep going, but I have to go to work. Rest assured that the legal complaint also covers One World’s strategic use of a mandala in its logo (“The mandala is a spiritual symbol representing the universe and has a history of being used as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation”), that One World carefully checked the internet to make sure water lantern festivals do not mean anything (“A search on ‘Google Insights for Search’ shows that prior to the launch of One World’s events, the term ‘water lantern festival’ had virtually no search traffic throughout the world, because the term ‘Water Lantern Festival’ had no meaning associated with it), that when they told their former employee to stop copying their event that had no meaning, he totally ignored them (“One World sent a cease and desist letter to 1000 Lights. However, 1000 Lights refused to comply with the cease and desist letter), and that the standard package of internet search-seeding and url redirect-chicanery has also occurred.
What is certain is that a lantern festival involving water will undoubtedly roll through town again at some point—but which festival, and when, and why? We cannot know the answers to these pressing questions, because water lantern festivals, according to what has been presented to the court in the great state of Utah, have no meaning associated with them.