Just over two months ago, Sacramento’s beloved Firestone Public House was sued by multinational conglomerate Bridgestone Brands, LLC for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition based upon Firestone’s use of the FIRESTONE mark. I initially found this dispute to be quite interesting in light of what I appeared to be vastly different groups of consumers being served by the respective entities: tire consumers vis-à-vis food and beverage consumers. However, I subsequently learned that Bridgestone’s use of the FIRESTONE mark goes beyond tires and into the restaurant and bar industry, as reflected by its federally registered trademark.
The complaint includes allegations relating to the fact that the 16th and L Street location occupied by the Firestone Public House was previously occupied by a Firestone Tire location for 75 years, and is in fact known as the Firestone Building around Sacramento, giving rise to a greater likelihood of consumer confusion. Perhaps more importantly, as mentioned above, Bridgestone owns a federally registered trademark for restaurant and bar services, which according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s file, dates back to December 1954. In its answer and counterclaim, Firestone Public House seeks to cancel Bridgestone’s mark and contends that the mark was not registered until after Firestone Public House opened. That fact, however, may be of little consequence if Bridgestone has been using the mark in commerce since 1954. In fact, Firestone’s counterclaim is likely only a strategic action taken in an attempt to gain settlement leverage. Specifically, it seems Firestone is trying to force Bridgestone to have some skin in the game so that a more favorable settlement can be reached.
It is unlikely that we will ever see this case adjudicated on the merits. Firestone, although seemingly quite a successful venture, is not nearly as well funded as Bridgestone, so it seems unlikely that it will be as willing to throw money at litigation if it can reach some form of acceptable resolution. And while Bridgestone is flush with cash, it didn’t get that way from throwing money down the drain, and it will probably reach a deal with Firestone that it can live with. After all, it doesn’t seem likely that Firestone’s use of the mark will greatly impact Bridgestone’s reputation in the restaurant and bar industry, especially since most people are unaware of Blackstone’s Firestone branded restaurants.
But with that said, it also remains possible that Bridgestone will refuse to play ball and negotiate with Firestone in good faith. It wouldn’t be the first time that a national conglomerate stepped in and tried to bully a successful, but significantly smaller company. In fact, perhaps we should expect that sort of behavior from a party who stepped in and sued a distantly located, single-location restaurant over its use of the trademark. It remains to be seen how this will shake out but we will be keeping an eye on this case, and if there are any significant developments, we will be sure to write about them.