People tend to add suffixes like “-fest,” “-athon,” or “-palooza” to just about any event these days, but some of these promotional names are well established and protected by registered trademarks. Which is why a beloved Wisconsin music festival is taking seafood chain Red Lobster to court over its use of “Summerfest.”
Summerfest is an annual 11-day lakefront summer music festival. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer with major musical acts, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Luke Bryan. The current festival, its 50th, began June 28 and ends July 9. Its organizers, Milwaukee World Festival, have held a trademark on the Summerfest name since 1972.
Meanwhile, “Lobster and Shrimp Summerfest” is a promotional campaign cooked up by Red Lobster to sell more food.
It’s also, according to a lawsuit [PDF] filed this week in federal court by the music festival, a trademark violation that confuses consumers and allows Red Lobster to unjustly profit from the goodwill associated with the Summerfest name.
The company acknowledgest that it does authorize vendors and other sponsorship partners to use the Summerfest trademark for a short period of time. However, this isn’t the case with Red Lobster.
The lawsuit states that Red Lobster’s use of Summerfest has “engendered actual confusion, with numerous city officials and business leaders inquiring whether there was an affiliation between Plaintiff and Defendant.”
This, according to the festival company, isn’t its first time battling the restaurant chain.
Last year, Milwaukee World Festival attorneys sent Red Lobster a letter detailing that the company’s Lobster and Shrimp Summerfest promotion was in violation of the Summerfest trademark.
In that case, the lawsuit notes Red Lobster responded that there was no infringement, as the seafood chain uses “-fest” in many of its promotions and events, like Lobsterfest (which Red Lobster happens to have a registered trademark for). The two companies exchanged several additional letters.
While Red Lobster didn’t respond to the last email in July, the chain eventually ceased its use of the Summerfest mark and rebranded its promotion to “Crabfest.”
Despite this, Milwaukee World Festival claims that Red Lobster has refused to make similar changes this year.
“Milwaukee World Festival has repeatedly reached out to Defendant to demand that it cease its infringing activity, but Defendant has not only refused to stop using the Summerfest mark, it has also refused to engage in meaningful discussions in order to come to a resolution of this matter,” the lawsuit states.
Milwaukee World Festival first contacted Red Lobster June 6 demanding the company cease and desist its infringing use of the Summerfest mark, requesting the restaurant chain return to the “Crabfest” name.
Once again, Red Lobster replied noting that it was not infringing on the trademark. The Festival company responded again asking that Red Lobster cease using the name. This request received a response that Red Lobster counsel would address the issue after July 5.
Because the festival has already begun, Milwaukee World Festival claims that it suffered and will continue to suffer “ substantial and irreparable harm, including the ability to control the consumer perception of its goods and services, the loss of goodwill and reputation it has established in the Summerfest mark.”