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From soup to … watches? Rolex sues small deli for using its name

It’s a fairly common story in the realm of intellectual property: A new business starts up, only to discover another business already has the same name. The already established business goes after the new one, which ends up changing its name. Usually, the business protecting its name is doing so because it stands to lose name recognition or profits from the new business. But that’s not always the case.

A New York deli is being sued by Swiss watchmaker Rolex for using its name. The Rolex Deli serves soup, sandwiches and other food items; you won’t find a watch for sale anywhere in the store. But Rolex says it doesn’t want anyone to get the impression that the luxury timepiece company is now serving up lunch in Brooklyn.

The owner of the deli, who opened his business four months ago, says he chose the name to pay homage to Rolex and its fine products. He said he tries to offer the same high quality and attention to detail that Rolex does. He also insists that “regular people” know the difference between a sandwich and a watch, and that there are no Rolex-related items on his menu.

Complicating matters is the fact that the New York State Division of Corporations approved the name before the business opened. Nevertheless, Rolex isn’t letting the matter slide. Its lawsuit for trademark dilution demands that the owner of the deli pay untold damages, change the name of the business and destroy signs, advertisements and any other materials bearing the Rolex name.

The deli owner says he doesn’t have the money to make those changes, which he estimates will cost more than $30,000. Rolex isn’t expected to change its tune, and it has every right to pursue its lawsuit. A case such as this serves as a lesson to small business owners: Before setting up shop, make sure you aren’t naming it after another company, whether or not they have the funds to file an intellectual property lawsuit against you.

Source: Styleite.com, “Rolex Suing Small, 4-Month-Old Deli For Trademark Infringement,” Justin Fenner, Dec. 21, 2011

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