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Miller’s Ale House, Inc. v. Boynton Carolina Ale House, LLC

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 12-20-2012
Case #: 10-15140
Tjoflat, Martin, Dawson
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/ops/201015140.pdf

Trademarks: To relitigate a previous judicial determination of genericness, a purported trademark holder would need to show a drastic change in consumer perception.

Miller’s Ale House (“Miller’s”), a restaurant chain with a location in Boynton Beach, Florida, brought a trademark infringement case against Boynton Carolina Ale House (“Boynton”). The district court granted summary judgment to Boynton on all claims, and Miller’s appealed. Miller’s claimed that he had a common law trademark rights in the name “ale house” and trade dress rights in the interior decoration of its restaurants. Each Miller’s restaurant name used a geographic prefix followed by the term “ale house”. The restaurants also included several common features that contributed to the overall image of the brand. Boynton, a licensee of LM Restaurants, Inc., the creators of Carolina Ale House, opened a Carolina Ale House branded restaurant in Boynton Beach, near a Miller’s restaurant. Boynton employed much of the same common features found in Miller’s restaurants, such as a prefixed menu items, exterior and interior features, employee dress code, etc. There were also significant differences. In a previous litigation between these two parties, the Fourth Circuit found “ale house” to be a generic word for a facility serving beer and ale, with or without food. The present court determined that the trademark infringement claim was barred by issue preclusion. The court also determined that Miller’s trade dress was not distinctive. The court stated that the outside appearance, menu, employee dress code, and interior decoration were common design features of a standard sports bar or brew pub. Summary judgment for Boynton was AFFIRMED.