Articles Posted in Franchise

EconoLodge-Lafayaette-300x170Lafayette, IndianaChoice Hotels International, Inc. of Rockville, Maryland sued in the Northern District of Indiana alleging trademark infringement under federal and Indiana law.

Choice Hotels is in the business of franchising hotels.  It offers hotel and motel services under the following brands: CAMBRIA HOTELS & SUITES®, COMFORT INN®, COMFORT SUITES®, QUALITY®, SLEEP IN®, CLARION®, MAINSTAY SUITES®, SUBURBAN EXTENDED STAY HOTEL®, ECONO LODGE®, and RODEWAY INN®.

At issue in this Indiana trademark litigation is the Econo Lodge family of trademarks.  These trademarks include U.S. Trademark Nos.:

Fort Wayne, Indiana – Super 8 Worldwide, Inc. f/k/a Super 8 Motels, Inc. of Parsippany, New Jersey sued in the Northern District of Indiana alleging trademark infringement and other wrongdoings.

Plaintiff Super 8 operates a franchise system for guest lodging.  It claims ownership to the SUPER 8® service mark as well as various related trade names, trademarks and serviceUntitled-1 marks, some of which have been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  It estimates the value of the entity’s goodwill to exceed hundreds of millions of dollars.

In this Indiana intellectual property lawsuit, Super 8 alleges that former franchisees have violated the terms of a franchise agreement entered into with Super 8.  Three Indianapolis Defendants were listed: Auburn Lodging Associates, LLP (“ALA”), Kokila Patel and Dilip Patel.  A fourth Defendant Chicago Capital Holdings, LLC (“CCH”) of Hinsdale, Illinois was also named.

Indianapolis, Indiana – A Massachusetts trademark lawsuit filed in July 2015 was transferred to the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. Plaintiff Get In Shape Franchise, Inc. (“GIS”), a Massachusetts-based franchisor, alleges that Defendants TFL Fishers, LLC and its sole member, Rosalyn Harris; Thinner For Life, Inc.; and Fit Chicks, LLC, all of Fishers, Indiana infringed its intellectual property rights. GIS asks the Indiana federal court: (1) to order the discontinuation of Defendant’s infringement of its registered trademarks; (2) for injunctive relief due to breach of contract, unfair competition and breach of the covenant of good faith; (3) to order compliance by Harris of her post-contractual obligations.

GIS sells fitness franchises under the service mark “Get In Shape For Women.” Registration Certificates for Plaintiff are as follows:

MARK

Reg. No.

Reg. Date

“Get in Shape for Women”

Service Mark Reg. 3,374,173

Jan. 22, 2008

“Your treatment is complete”

Service Mark Reg. 4,241,902

Nov. 13, 2012

“Get in Shape for Women Small Group Personal Training”

Service Mark Reg. 4,249,694

Nov. 27, 2012

Plaintiff contends that it entered into such a franchise agreement with TFL Fishers and Harris in April 2013 for use in the Fishers, Indiana market. This agreement provided for payment to the franchisor of a transfer fee as well as a royalty on the franchise’s gross sales. Plaintiff contends that, pursuant to the agreement, Harris also agreed to various restrictions on her activities, including prohibitions on certain activities that would compete with GIS.

According to the complaint, Harris notified GIS on June 24, 2015 that TFL Fishers was discontinuing its franchised business and had closed its Fishers fitness studio. Instead, contends Plaintiff, it discovered on June 30th that the Fishers studio continued to operate but that it had changed its name to “Fit Chicks.” GIS alleges that this was improper. It also accuses Defendants of other wrongful acts, such as willfully underreporting total sales and, consequently, underreporting the royalty fees due to GIS.

Trademark attorneys for Plaintiff list the following claims for the Indiana federal court’s review and adjudication:

• First Cause of Action: Violation of the Lanham Act
• Second Cause of Action: Breach of Contract – Injunctive Relief
• Third Cause of Action: Breach of Contract – Damages
• Fourth Cause of Action: Breach of the Covenants of Good Faith and Fair Dealings
• Fifth Cause of Action: Unjust Enrichment
• Sixth Cause of Action: Unfair Competition

• Seventh Cause of Action: Fraud

Plaintiff seeks damages, including treble damages, along with enforcement of the franchise agreement, equitable relief, attorney’s fees and costs.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – In the trademark lawsuit between of Plaintiff Wine & Canvas Development, LLC (“WNC”) and Defendants Christopher Muylle, Theodore Weisser, YN Canvas CA, LLC and Weisser Management Group, LLC, the Southern District of Indiana found that Plaintiffs had engaged in abuse of process and awarded an additional $175,882.68 in attorneys’ fees and costs to Defendant Muylle.

Plaintiff WNC sued Defendants in 2011 on allegations of trademark infringement and false designation of origin after disputes arose regarding the parties’ franchising agreement. Defendants counterclaimed for abuse of process against WNC and its principals Anthony Scott (“Scott”), Tamara McCracken Scott (“Ms. McCracken”), and Donald McCracken (“Mr. McCracken”).

Following a November 2014 trial, the jury found in favor of Defendant Muylle, returning a verdict that there had been no trademark infringement or false designation of origin by Muylle. The jury also found for Muylle on his claim of abuse of process. It awarded him $81,000 from WNC, $81,000 from Scott, $81,000 from Ms. McCracken, and $27,000 from Mr. McCracken.

In this order, the court ruled on Muylle’s most recent petition for attorneys’ fees. These fees had been incurred after September 30, 2014 and consisted of attorneys’ fees that had been neither requested from the jury nor already paid as part of any of three prior payments of Muylle’s attorneys’ fees that had earlier been awarded by the court as sanctions against Plaintiff for failing to follow discovery or court rules.

The court evaluated both whether the fees should be awarded and, if so, whether the amount requested, $175,882.68, was reasonable. Under Seventh Circuit jurisprudence, attorneys’ fees are available when a trademark infringement lawsuit is deemed to be “exceptional.” An example of such an exceptional circumstance under the Lanham Act would be if the plaintiff lost and was also guilty of abuse of process.

The Plaintiff in this litigation lost. At trial, Muylle contended that the trademark infringement lawsuit had been brought for the purpose of causing him to incur considerable litigation costs to put on a defense and, thus, force the closing of the business. Muylle claimed that Scott had told him during a telephone conversation that Scott expected to lose the lawsuit against Muylle but that winning was not the goal of the litigation. Instead his goal was to put Defendants out of business. The jury found that Plaintiff had engaged in abuse of process.

The court also considered whether the amount of the fees was unreasonable. Judge Walton Pratt admitted that, at first blush, the fees did seem questionable for two months of legal services. Upon reviewing the detailed time records, however, the court found that neither the amount of time nor the rates charged per hour were unreasonable. The full amount of attorneys’ fees was awarded to Defendant.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – Texas defamation and franchise attorneys for Property Damage 

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Appraisers (“PDA”), in conjunction with Indiana co-counsel, sued alleging that John Mosley (“Mosley”), owner of the Clinton Body Shop, Inc. of Clinton, Mississippi, committed unfair competition under the Lanham Act by falsely representing the nature of an estimate made by one of PDA’s franchisees. Various state-law claims have also been pled to the court. This unfair competition lawsuit was initially filed in Indiana state court. It was removed from the Marion County Superior Court to the Southern District of Indiana by Indiana intellectual property attorneys for Defendants.

Plaintiff PDA is a national franchisor with a network of approximately 185 independent franchisees that are in the business of performing inspections on vehicles and other property. It has been in business for over 50 years. Defendant Mosley is the owner of the Clinton Body Shop. Clinton Body Shop advertises itself as a one-stop, full-service shop for automobile services.

Mosley is accused of inducing a PDA franchisee, John Larry Gentry, into providing a nonconforming auto-services estimate on PDA letterhead. PDA contends that Gentry was told that this estimate was only for comparison purposes and that it would be provided only to the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

PDA claims that, instead, Mosley subsequently e-mailed this estimate to the Indiana Auto Body Association. PDA also asserts that Mosley mischaracterized the contents of, and process involved in writing, the estimate. According to the complaint, Mosley also delivered this nonconforming estimate to “other body shops around the country, making the same misrepresentations.”

In its complaint, filed by Texas defamation and franchise lawyers for PDA, in conjunction with Indiana co-counsel, the following counts are listed:

• Count I: Federal Unfair Competition (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a))
• Count II: State Unfair Competition
• Count III: Defamation
• Count IV: Tortious Interference with Business Relationships

PDA asks the court for damages, including exemplary damages; interest; attorneys’ fees, expenses and costs; and a permanent injunction.

Practice Tip: The vast majority of Indiana intellectual property litigation takes place in federal court, as the intellectual property causes of action that are most often litigated creations of federal statutory law. Thus, they may be heard in federal court under federal-question jurisdiction. However, some intellectual property lawsuits – for example, litigation involving a trademark that is registered only with the state of Indiana and used solely within Indiana’s boundaries – may occur in Indiana state court.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – An Indiana trademark attorney for Noble Roman’s, Inc. of NRPPicture.gifIndianapolis, Indiana filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Indiana alleging that Sahara Sam’s Indoor Water Park, LLC of Pennsauken, New Jersey (“Sahara”) infringed its trademarks. These trademarks are: Noble Roman’s®, Trademark Registration No. 987,069; THE BETTER PIZZA PEOPLE, Trademark Registration No. 1,920,428; and a design mark, Trademark Registration No. 1,682,308. Noble Roman’s also states that it has registered the Tuscano’s® mark. In addition to trademark infringement, Noble Roman’s asserts that Sahara engaged in false designation of origin and unlawful competition. Noble Roman’s has registered its marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Noble Roman’s is in the business of franchising the operation of Noble Roman’s pizza franchises that feature pizza, breadsticks, and other related food items to various franchisees throughout the world. Noble Roman’s has used its trademarks, among them “Noble Roman’s” and “The Better Pizza People,” registered in 1974 and 1995, respectively, in commerce in connection with marketing, identifying, and promoting its pizza franchises.

On or about June 27, 2005, Noble Roman’s and entered into two franchise agreements. Under the terms of the agreements, Sahara became a franchisee of Noble Roman’s, licensed and authorized to sell “Noble Roman’s” and “Tuscano’s” branded food products using Noble Roman’s intellectual property assets. Noble Roman’s asserts that these agreements included terms relating to the accurate reporting of sales and timely payment of franchise fees and other fees.

Sahara is accused of failing to pay royalties as required under the agreement and of misreporting sales, among other things. Noble Roman’s contends that Sahara purposely, intentionally and knowingly misreported its sales to Noble Roman’s for the purpose of avoiding payment of franchise fees and/or royalties which were due.

Noble Roman’s also contends that, after electing not to renew the franchise agreements, Sahara violated certain post-termination provisions of the Agreements, including those which require Sahara to: (1) cease to use any Noble Roman’s proprietary products; and (2) remove from public view and display any signage or other articles containing or depicting the trademarks.

Sahara is further accused of having violated the non-competition covenants by selling, after termination of the franchise agreements, various food items “which can be utilized without knowledge gained from Noble Roman’s.”

Noble Roman’s states that Sahara’s actions were without the authorization or consent of Noble Roman’s and that they constitute trademark infringement, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1), as well as false designation of origin in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1125.

The complaint, filed by an Indiana trademark lawyer, lists the following:

• Count One (Trademark Infringement)
• Count One [sic] (Breach of Contract)
• Count Two (Fraud)
• Count Three (Injunctive Relief)

Noble Roman’s asks for injunctive relief, as well as judgment in its favor in amount to be proven at trial, together with interest, punitive damages, costs of collection and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Practice Tip: Noble Roman’s has been particularly aggressive in enforcing franchise agreements. Since 2007, it has also filed the following suits in the Southern District of Indiana:

February 12, 2014 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. B & MP and LESLIE PERDRIAU

September 5, 2012 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. VILLAGE PANTRY

March 17, 2011 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. FINDLAY TIFFIN OIL, LLC and AYMAN MAGDADDI

January 27, 2011 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. et al. v. BRABHAM OIL COMPANY and BRABHAM OIL COMPANY

October 9, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. CITY CENTER FOOD CORP., INC.

August 31, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. W.J. INTERNATIONAL GROUP, LLC

July 17, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MARDAN, INC.

July 8, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. RENTON WILLIAMS

April 21, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. RICHARD A. GOMES and RRCM FOODS, INC.

April 2, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. KANDAKAR ALAM

February 17, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. EXPRESS LANE, INC.

February 10, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. JJP&L, LLC

November 6, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. PARDIS & ASSOCIATES, INC.

October 24, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v DELTA PROPERTY MANAGEMENT LLC, ZACK BROTHERS TRUCK STOP, LLC and STANDARD PETROLEUM CORP.

October 6, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. JAY’S GAS LLC

April 9, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. SHAHRAM RAHIMIAN

March 17, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MEDALLION CONVENIENCE STORES, INC.

December 20, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MICHAEL J. BRUNSWICK, LAURIE BRUNSWICK, and M&L RESTAURANTS, LLC

September 17, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. THE FRENCH BAGUETTE, LLC et al.

July 26, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MR. RON’S, L.C.

July 19, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. BAUER BUILT, INC. et al.

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Indianapolis, Indiana – An Indiana trademark attorney for Noble Roman’s, Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana sued in the Southern District of Indiana alleging that B & MP, LLC (which was dissolved in 2011) and Leslie Perdriau of Apple River, Illinois (collectively, “B & MP”)picture2Nobleromans.jpg infringed the trademark Noble Roman’s, Registration No. 987,069, as well as the trademark, The Better Pizza People, Registration No. 1,920,428. Noble Roman’s also lists a design mark, Registration No. 1,682,308 in its complaint. All of the marks have been registered by the U.S. Trademark Office.

Noble Roman’s is in the business of franchising the operation of Noble Roman’s pizza franchises that feature pizza, breadsticks, and other related food items to various franchisees throughout the world. Noble Roman’s has used its trademarks, among them “Noble Roman’s” and “The Better Pizza People,” registered in 1974 and 1995, respectively, in commerce in connection with marketing, identifying, and promoting its pizza franchises.

On or about March 16, 2010, Noble Roman’s and B & MP entered into two franchise agreements. Under the terms of the agreements, B & MP became a franchisee of Noble Roman’s licensed and authorized to sell “Noble Roman’s” and “Tuscano’s” branded food products using Noble Roman’s intellectual property assets. These agreements included terms relating to the accurate reporting of sales and timely payment of franchise and other fees.

B & MP is accused of failing to pay royalties as required under the agreement and of misreporting sales, among other things. Noble Roman’s contends that B & MP purposely, intentionally and knowingly misreported its sales to Noble Roman’s for the purpose of avoiding payment of franchise fees and/or royalties which were due.

Noble Roman’s also states that B & MP used the Noble Roman’s trademarks in connection with the sale of non-Noble Roman’s pizza and other menu items and that such use of the trademarks was without the authorization or consent of Noble Roman’s. Those acts were asserted to constitute trademark infringement, in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1), as well as a false designation of origin in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1125.

Although the complaint lists two Defendants, Noble Roman’s states that Defendant B & MP was involuntarily dissolved in 2011 and that Defendant Leslie Perdriau succeeded to its obligations.

The complaint, filed by an Indiana trademark lawyer, lists the following:

• Count One (Trademark Infringement)
• Count One [sic] (Breach of Contract)
• Count Two (Fraud)

Noble Roman’s asks for judgment in its favor in amount to be proven at trial, together with interest, punitive damages, costs of collection and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Practice Tip: Noble Roman’s has been particularly aggressive in enforcing franchise agreements. Since 2007, it has also filed the following suits in the Southern District of Indiana:

September 5, 2012 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. VILLAGE PANTRY

March 17, 2011 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. FINDLAY TIFFIN OIL, LLC and AYMAN MAGDADDI

January 27, 2011 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. et al. v. BRABHAM OIL COMPANY and BRABHAM OIL COMPANY

October 9, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. CITY CENTER FOOD CORP., INC.

August 31, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. W.J. INTERNATIONAL GROUP, LLC

July 17, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MARDAN, INC.

July 8, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. RENTON WILLIAMS

April 21, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. RICHARD A. GOMES and RRCM FOODS, INC.

April 2, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. KANDAKAR ALAM

February 17, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. EXPRESS LANE, INC.

February 10, 2009 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. JJP&L, LLC

November 6, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. PARDIS & ASSOCIATES, INC.

October 24, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v DELTA PROPERTY MANAGEMENT LLC, ZACK BROTHERS TRUCK STOP, LLC and STANDARD PETROLEUM CORP.

October 6, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. JAY’S GAS LLC

April 9, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. SHAHRAM RAHIMIAN

March 17, 2008 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MEDALLION CONVENIENCE STORES, INC.

December 20, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MICHAEL J. BRUNSWICK, LAURIE BRUNSWICK, and M&L RESTAURANTS, LLC

September 17, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. THE FRENCH BAGUETTE, LLC et al.

July 26, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC. v. MR. RON’S, L.C.

July 19, 2007 – NOBLE ROMAN’S INC. v. BAUER BUILT, INC. et al.

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Denver, Colorado — Intellectual property lawyers for Steak n Shake Enterprises, Inc. and Steak n Shake, LLC of Indianapolis, Indiana (collectively “Steak n Shake”) sued in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado alleging that Globex Company, LLC; Springfield Downs, LLC; Christopher Baerns; Larry Baerns; Kathryn Baerns and Control, LLC, all of Colorado, are infringing the “Steak n Shake” marks, which have been registered by the U.S. Trademark Office.

logo.jpgNon-party Steak n Shake Operations, Inc., Steak n Shake Enterprises’ parent company, has continuously operated Steak n Shake restaurants specializing in burgers and milkshakes since 1934.  There are currently 415 company-owned Steak n Shake restaurants in 15 states across the country.  In addition, Steak n Shake Enterprises grants franchises to establish and operate Steak n Shake restaurants pursuant to written franchise agreements with Steak n Shake Enterprises, and written license agreements with Steak n Shake, LLC.  There are currently 100 franchised Steak n Shake restaurants operating in 23 states, including Colorado.  Steak n Shake asserts that the Steak n Shake trademarks, and the products and services offered in association with those marks, have been extensively promoted throughout the United States for many years.

This action against Defendants arose subsequent to the termination of franchise and license agreements between Plaintiffs Steak n Shake Enterprises, Inc., as franchisor, and Steak n Shake, LLC, as licensor, and Defendants as franchisees, licensees and/or guarantors.  Steak n Shake contends that Defendants materially breached their obligations under the franchise and license agreements and failed to cure such breaches.  As a result, Steak n Shake terminated the agreements.

Steak n Shake alleges that, notwithstanding the termination of the franchise and license agreements, Defendants continue to use the Steak n Shake name and marks in connection with the operation of competitive restaurants at the same locations as their former franchised Steak n Shake restaurants, and to hold their restaurants out to the public as authentic Steak n Shake restaurants.

In the complaint, trademark attorneys for Steak n Shake assert the following:

·         Count I – Trademark Infringement

·         Count II – Unfair Competition

·         Count III – Breach of Contract – Specific Performance

·         Count IV – Breach of Contract – Damages

·         Count V – Breach of Guaranty – Damages

Steak n Shake seeks the following relief against Defendants, jointly and severally: preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining Defendants’ trademark infringement and unfair competition, and ordering Defendants to perform their post-termination obligations under their franchise and license agreements and area development agreement, including their noncompetition covenants; recovery of the amounts owed to them by Defendants, including the damages each has sustained by reason of Defendants’ breaches and the resulting termination of the franchise and license agreements and area development agreement; and an award of the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by Steak n Shake.

Practice Tip: Franchise agreements typically require the franchisee to cease using all of the franchise marks, as well as return all items bearing the franchise marks, in the event the franchise agreement is terminated.  Failure to comply promptly with these provisions can lead to liability for trademark infringement, among other claims.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan — Trademark lawyers for Texas Roadhouse, Inc. and Texas Roadhouse Delaware LLC, both of Louisville, Kentucky (collectively, “Texas logo.jpgRoadhouse”) sued for trademark infringement in the Western District of Michigan alleging that the Defendants, including those doing business as multiple Texas Corral restaurants located in Indiana (collectively “Texas Corral”), as well as one Amarillo Roadhouse restaurant, also located in Indiana, infringed the service mark TEXAS ROADHOUSE, Trademark Registration Nos. 1,833,533; 2,231,309; and 2,250,966, which have been registered by the U.S. Trademark Office.

Texas Roadhouse operates a Texas-themed restaurant chain.  The first Texas Roadhouse restaurant opened in Clarksville, Indiana in 1993.  As of March 2013, there were 397 Texas Roadhouse restaurants in 47 states and three countries. 

Texas Roadhouse contends that each of the restaurants is required to comply with strict exterior and interior design requirements so that the look and feel is substantially identical across all Texas Roadhouse locations.  It lists three U.S. Service Mark Registrations that include the mark “Texas Roadhouse” and asserts that each of them is incontestable.  Texas Roadhouse also claims ownership of various unregistered marks that include the word “Texas” and “Roadhouse” as well as copyright protection, including a U.S. Copyright registration, of its marquee.  Finally, Texas Roadhouse claims intellectual-property rights in the trade dress of its restaurants, including the look of the exterior design of the building, the interior décor, the music and the menu.

TexasCorralLogo.jpgTexas Corral, against which Texas Roadhouse filed this complaint, also operates casual, western-themed, family restaurants. It owns and operates nine restaurant locations doing business under the name “Texas Corral.”  A total of ten locations are at issue in this lawsuit.  Six Indiana cities have “Texas Corral” restaurants: Highland, Merrillville, Portage, Michigan City, Martinsville and Shelbyville.  Texas Corral also purportedly owns and operates a location that does business as “Amarillo Roadhouse” in Indiana, which is also at issue in this trademark-infringement lawsuit.  In addition, three other Texas Corral restaurants have been listed in the complaint: two in Michigan and one in Illinois.  

Also listed in the complaint are Paul Switzer, asserted to be the franchisor/licensor of Texas Corral restaurants and Victor Spina, asserted to be a franchisee/licensee.  “John Doe Corp.,” a fictitious name intended to represent entities or individuals whose actual identity is not currently known to Texas Roadhouse, is also listed as a Defendant.

AmarilloRoadhouseLogo.gifIn the complaint, trademark attorneys for Texas Roadhouse assert that Texas Corral and Amarillo Roadhouse routinely use trade dress, trademarks, service marks, trade names, designs or logos that are confusingly similar to or copies of intellectual property owned by Texas Roadhouse.  This purportedly infringing use is asserted to be visible in signage, print and electronic promotional materials, menus, décor, building design and websites.

Texas Roadhouse’s complaint against Texas Corral and Amarillo Roadhouse lists the following:

·         Count I: Trade Dress Infringement

·         Count II: Federal Trademark Infringement

·         Count III: Trademark Infringement Under Mich. Comp. Laws § 429.42

·         Count IV: Trademark Infringement Under Ind. Code § 24-2-1-13

·         Count V: Trademark Infringement Under Common Law

·         Count VI: Copyright Infringement Under 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.

·         Count VII: Unfair Competition Under Michigan and Indiana Common Law

Texas Roadhouse asks for a judgment that Texas Roadhouse owns enforceable rights in the Texas Roadhouse intellectual property and that all registrations for the Texas Roadhouse intellectual property are valid; a judgment that the Defendants have been and are directly or indirectly infringing the Texas Roadhouse intellectual property; a judgment that the Defendants have been and are engaging in unfair competition by their unauthorized use of the Texas Roadhouse intellectual property; a judgment that Defendants acted deliberately, willfully, intentionally or with malicious intent; an injunction against Defendants prohibiting infringement; damages, including treble damages; a judgment that this case is exceptional and that the Defendants be ordered to pay all of Texas Roadhouse’s attorney fees associated with this action pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1117 and 17 U.S.C. § 505; and a judgment that the defendants be ordered to pay all costs and expenses incurred by Texas Roadhouse in this action.

Practice Tip:

The U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the requirements for trade dress protection in a similar context.  Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana, Inc., 505 U.S. 763 (1992).  At issue in Two Pesos was similar restaurant décor.  Taco Cabana had sued rival Two Pesos for copying the look of its restaurant, described as “a festive eating atmosphere having interior dining and patio areas decorated with artifacts, bright colors, paintings and murals.  The patio includes interior and exterior areas with the interior patio capable of being sealed off from the outside patio by overhead garage doors.  The stepped exterior of the building is a festive and vivid color scheme using top border paint and neon stripes.  Bright awnings and umbrellas continue the theme.”  The lawsuit alleged that Two Pesos had imitated this scheme and had thereby infringed on Taco Cabana’s trade dress.  Among the issues considered was whether trade dress which was inherently distinctive must also be shown to have secondary meaning to be granted protection under the Lanham Act.  The Supreme Court held that trade dress which is inherently distinctive is protectable under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act without a showing that it has acquired secondary meaning, since such trade dress itself is capable of identifying products or services as coming from a specific source.

Also at issue in this case, among other matters, will be the eligibility of the words “Texas” and “Roadhouse” for protection under federal and Indiana intellectual-property laws.  Under the Lanham Act, a federal law, the holder of a mark may ask the United States Patent and Trademark Office to register the mark on the principal register.  15 U.S.C.A. § 1051, et seq.  Marks that are “primarily descriptive” and “primarily geographically descriptive” of the goods or services with which they are associated are not eligible for registration on the principal register unless they have “become distinctive of the applicant’s goods in commerce.”  15 U.S.C.A. § 1052(e), (f).  Thus, registration of a descriptive mark on the principal register requires a showing of secondary meaning.

Although the Lanham Act protects both registered and unregistered marks, registration is desirable because it constitutes prima facie evidence of the mark’s validity.  See 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1057(b), 1115(a).  Thus, federal registration of a mark “‘entitles the plaintiff to a presumption that its registered trademark is not merely descriptive or generic, or, if merely descriptive, is accorded secondary meaning.'”  The plaintiff bears the burden, however, of establishing that an unregistered mark is entitled to protection.

The Indiana Trademark Act is similar, and in some respects identical, to the Lanham Act. Although Indiana’s body of trademark law is relatively undeveloped, the General Assembly has specified that the Indiana Trademark Act “is intended to provide a system of state trademark registration and protection that is consistent with the federal system of trademark registration and protection under the Trademark Act of 1946.”  Ind. Code Ann. § 24-2-1-0.5. Moreover, “[a] judicial or an administrative interpretation of a provision of the federal Trademark Act may be considered as persuasive authority in construing a provision of the Indiana Trademark Act.

The Indiana Trademark Act’s definitions of “trademark” and “service mark” track the Lanham Act’s definitions of those terms nearly verbatim.  See I.C. § 24-2-1-2(8), (9). Like the Lanham Act, the Indiana Trademark Act does not adversely affect common-law trademark rights.  See I.C. § 24-2-1-15.  Registration of a trademark or service mark with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State provides a registrant with a remedy for the infringement thereof under the Indiana Trademark Act.  I.C. § 24-2-1-14(a).  Like the Lanham Act, the Indiana Trademark Act prohibits the registration of marks that are “primarily geographically descriptive or deceptively geographically misdescriptive of the goods or services[.]”  I.C. § 24-2-1-3.  This provision does not, however, prevent the registration of a mark that is used in Indiana by the applicant and has become distinctive of the applicant’s goods or services.  In other words, a geographically descriptive mark may be registered under the Indiana Trademark Act if it has acquired secondary meaning.
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Indianapolis, IN – The Southern District of Indiana dismissed multiple claims by Plaintiff Wine & Canvas in its trademark infringement suit against YN Canvas, et al.

Wine & Canvas organizes parties where guests can take a painting class while enjoying cocktails.  Anthony Scott (“Scott”), one of the founders of Wine & Canvas, sued multiple Wine&CanvasLogo.JPGdefendants.  He alleged that he entered into a business venture wherein he would license the Wine & Canvas business model to Christopher Muylle (“Muylle”) and Theodore Weisser (“Weisser”) for use in San Francisco, both to operate a new Wine & Canvas location and to license others to operate under the Wine & Canvas name and business model.  Instead, Scott alleged, the defendants breached that agreement, appropriated the Wine & Canvas model and proceeded without Scott as YN Canvas CA, LLC (“YN Canvas”).  Defendants, in turn, alleged that they breached no agreement but instead merely parted ways, changing their business name to “Art Uncorked,” when Wine & Canvas insisted on a new agreement with additional terms that were unfavorable to the defendants.

Plaintiff Wine & Canvas Development, LLC (“Wine & Canvas”), via its attorneys, sued multiple defendants: (1) YN Canvas, a Nevada limited liability company with its principal place of business in California; (2) www.art-uncorked.com, the corporate website for Art Uncorked; (3) Weisser, an officer of YN Canvas; and (4) Muylle, an officer of YN Canvas (collectively, “defendants”).  [NB: Art Uncorked was also named as a defendant but, as that was merely the new name of YN Canvas, which had already been named as a defendant, the court chose to refer to both by the one name, “YN Canvas.”]

The eleven-count complaint was originally filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court and included claims for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, sales of counterfeit items/services, unfair competition, declaratory judgment, civil action under the Indiana Crime Victims Act, breach of contract, fraud, permanent injunctive relief, and request for writ of attachment.  It was removed to the Southern District of Indiana as its Lanham Act issues provided federal question jurisdiction.  We previously blogged about that element of this case here.

The parties came to the court with several motions.  After a detailed discussion on personal jurisdiction, the court held that it could exercise specific jurisdiction over both Weisser and YN Canvas and denied the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction as to them.  The motion to dismiss the website as a defendant was granted, with the court finding that, “[b]ased on common sense and Indiana precedent, it is obvious to this Court that a website alone is not an entity capable of being sued.” 

The court declined to discuss jurisdiction regarding “Art Uncorked,” finding that it was merely the new name of YN Canvas and, as such, it need not be considered separately.  Any references to YN Canvas would also apply to Art Uncorked.

The court then moved to the defendants’ 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  Two counts – trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1)(a) and use of a counterfeit mark under 15 U.S.C. § 1116(d) – were dismissed.  Each of those claims required a registered mark, which Wine & Canvas conceded it did not have.  However, the court dismissed the counts without prejudice, as the registration of the marks is pending. 

The court next moved to two “counts” – permanent injunction and attachment – and dismissed them summarily as inappropriate pleading.  “Because these remedies are based on causes of actions in other counts within the Wine & Canvas’s complaint and are included within the Wine & Canvas’s prayer for relief,” the court held, “it is unnecessary to dedicate a separate count for each specific remedy.”

Defendants next asked the court to dismiss the claim of fraud for failure to meet the heightened standard required for pleading fraud.  As no time frame or location of the alleged fraud had been included in the plaintiff’s complaint, the court dismissed the fraud claim without prejudice.

Finally, as with the “counts” for permanent injunction and attachment noted earlier, the court addressed another “count” by Wine & Canvas seeking a declaratory judgment.  Ruling here on the defendants’ motion to strike, the court cited Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) allowing a court to strike “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter” from any pleading and, again, held that the “count” was redundant, as appropriate remedies would be addressed in the adjudication of the substantive claims, and granted the defendants’ motion to strike.

Practice Tip #1: The decision to sue a website is a curious one and seems to be the modern-day equivalent of suing a book.  It is notable that this has, however, happened.  See, e.g., here.  On the one hand, it is an attorney’s duty to pursue zealously his clients’ interests and, at times, that leads to maintaining a cause of action that is not a “sure thing.”  On the other hand, the law is unambiguous that a website is neither a real person nor a legal entity capable of being sued and, thus, it would have been wiser to omit this “defendant.”

Practice Tip #2: The decision to include various remedies that a party is seeking as separate causes of action is also curious but, instead of zealous advocacy run amok, it merely seems to reflect improper drafting.
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