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What's in a name? In restaurant business, maybe a trademark suit

Las Vegas is famous for its restaurants. Besides the gambling, nightclubs and shows, one of the things that attract millions of tourists each year is the chance to eat at a top-flight (and top-dollar) restaurant, perhaps one owned by a celebrity chef like Emeril Lagasse or Mario Batali. Even if no big names are behind the restaurant, as in all businesses, a memorable name for the place itself makes a big difference.

But maybe there are only so many ways to say "steakhouse" or "Italian cuisine," because in recent years there has been a rash of trademark infringement litigation between restaurants over who has the rights to certain names. Batali, who co-owns a steakhouse in a Las Vegas casino, was involved in one particularly high-profile case.

Batali was an investor in a New York restaurant called The Spotted Pig that was operated by another chef. Then, Batali's fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey applied for a trademark in the U.K. for that same name, presumably to open his own eatery. Both sides sued and well-known observers like Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain proclaimed their support for the New York Spotted Pig on Twitter. Eventually, Ramsey withdrew his application.

The issue for the owner of a trademarked business name is that no competitor can use an identical or similar name for his or her business to confuse customers into thinking they are patronizing a restaurant owned by the trademark holder. The names do not have to be the same. In another case, a hot dog restaurant called Rutt's Hut won a judgment against a competitor which called itself Mutt's Hut International. The court ruled that Mutt's Hut violated Rutt's Hut's trademark and the former changed its name to Red Hots.

Source: The Bergen Record, "Trademark battle put tension on the menu," Bill Ervolino, March 31, 2013

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