Krusty Krab. Restaurant. Trademark Infringement.

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Sponge Bob SquarePants. Lawsuit.

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Trademark Infringement. Krusty Krab.

Almost everyone with young children knows about the animated TV series, Sponge Bob SquarePants. The show is based in the fictional underwater city, Bikini Bottom. And of course, within this city is a restaurant called The Krusty Krab, run by a grouchy crab called Mr. Krabs.

In January of 2016, this fictional restaurant became the center of a trademark lawsuit.

Viacom. Nickelodeon.

Viacom, who owns Nickelodeon, the network which airs Sponge Bob SquarePants, filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a Texas based company, IJR Capital Investments, who attempted to open a seafood restaurant called…The Krusty Krab.

Although the name of the fictional restaurant was never registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Viacom contended that its common law trademark rights were violated. A common law trademark is established through continued “use” and not through statute. Attorneys for Viacom argued that the Krusty Krab animated restaurant has been in continuous use since 1999 and appeared in over 160 episodes of the TV series.

Secondary Meaning.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Gray Miller ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Viacom. The judge cited precedent and continued use in his decision, noting that the name “Krusty Krab” had acquired “secondary meaning” and was thus, distinctive. He went on to say that the potential for confusion was very high.

Judge Miller stopped short of awarding Viacom on their claim of trademark dilution, noting that the defendant, IJR Capital Investments, never actually opened the proposed restaurant, thus never used the trademark in commerce, a requirement for both federal and state trademark dilution law.

In the past, Viacom has allowed restaurants to use its trademarks via licensing agreements, the most notable example being a restaurant chain called Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. which originated from the 1994 box office hit “Forrest Gump.”

This case is far from the first of its kind. Other common law marks such as “Daily Planet” and “Kryptonite” were the subject of lawsuits involving Warner Bros. and DC Comics.

Once again, this case highlights the importance of “use” when there is no registration. Consistent use over a prolonged period, as well as “secondary meaning” are two of the key elements of common law trademark lawsuits.

I’m Attorney Francine Ward, and what do you think? Join the conversation on my Facebook Law Fan Page, my Twitter Law Page, my Google+ Page, or in one of my LinkedIn Groups.

 

The Walking Dead. Trademark Infringement.

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Just in time for Halloween, the producer of the hit cable TV series, The Walking Dead, has filed a Trademark infringement lawsuit over the use of the name ‘Valhalla.’

fotolia_29963865_xsTrademark Lawsuit.

Valhalla Entertainment, the company behind The Walking Dead series, as well as two spinoffs of the popular show, Fear The Walking Dead and Talking Dead, filed the trademark suit against a company that is calling itself, Valhalla Studios.

Adding fuel to the lawsuit is the fact that Valhalla Studios opened up shop right in Atlanta, Georgia where The Walking Dead is produced. The suit states that unauthorized use of the name (Valhalla), which was registered in 1997, causes confusion and a misleading association with the two companies.

Wrongful Profits.

Besides trademark infringement, the lawsuit also sites unfair competition, deceptive trade practices and trademark dilution, as well as an unspecified amount of “wrongful” profits, actual and enhanced damages and legal fees and costs.

Ryan Millsap, the CEO of Valhalla Studios said he was surprised to hear about the lawsuit, saying he and his partners thought they were choosing a generic name whose roots stem from Viking lore. The company is investing roughly $70 million to build 9 sound stages on a 53 acre lot right outside of Atlanta. Millsap said his lawyers were in negotiation for over a month with Valhalla Entertainment regarding the name and was convinced they would come to an amicable agreement.

Coincidence?

Was this a simply a coincidence of a movie production company moving into the same area where a hit cable show is produced and innocently choosing the same name as the entertainment company that produces the show? Or is Valhalla Studios intentionally attempting to create confusion and ride the coattails of the popular production?

What are your thoughts?

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