Monday

Sarah Palin Couldn't Do It. Jimi Hendrix Couldn't Do It But Tavern on the Plaza Roused The Trademark Troll From His Slumber

When I heard that the bankruptcy trustee for TAVERN ON THE GREEN in NYC was bitching about TAVERN ON THE PLAZA in Indianapolis my first thought was: WHY DON'T THESE SLAM DUNK CASES EVER COME MY WAY?? Jealousy thy name is trademark law.

The battle over the world famous TAVERN ON THE GREEN name, for restaurant services, has been raging for several years. Two presidential candidates one real, one a buffoon have weighed in on this topic. As matters now stand NYC owns the name. Some value it at $19 million dollars. But Mayor Bloomberg has hinted that the name may never again be used on a restaurant in NYC. Other creditors are still challenging NYC over ownership of the name.

Against this backdrop, a brand new J.W. Marriott hotel recently opened in Indianapolis. The hotel was not built by Marriott but rather by a successful Indiana real estate development company. As part of their final marketing plans they sought to federally register the term TAVERN ON THE PLAZA for an outdoor patio restaurant set to open in the Spring of 2011. In doing so, they apparently raised the alarm bells at the law firm that is serving as the trustee for the bankrupt estate. This law firm fired off a cease and desist letter to the Indiana company. Of course you can see the obvious conflict; TAVERN ON THE GREEN/TAVERN ON THE PLAZA- with nobody able to claim rights in the term tavern. You can't? Neither can anyone else. Especially Hoosiers!

So what did the Indiana folks do? They went on offense and filed a declaratory judgment action against the trustee in bankruptcy. Well let's see there are only about a million "tavern on the's..." in the US. My quick check unearthed several other taverns on several other plazas in the United States. To my utter amazement the electronic phone directory contains a listing for a TAVERN ON THE GREEN restaurant in the Indianapolis metropolitan area!

But, in one sense I can understand the trustee's position. Surprising the United States Trademark Registry had no other entries for TAVERN ON THE... except the two in dispute. If I were fighting over the name TAVERN ON THE GREEN and it suddenly appeared as if the J.W. Marriott Company might( emphasis on might) be adopting the name TAVERN ON THE PLAZA for all Marriott restaurants I might take some action. I would like to think that that action would be a much better investigation of the underlying facts, combined with a much more rigorous analysis of whether GREEN and PLAZA are legally distinct.
As I said before "Why don't I ever get these cases???"

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