English Company THOIP asserted its rights to a family of unregistered trademarks in a children’s book series involving cartoon characters called “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” by suing the king of the cartoon characters—Walt Disney Company (and related companies). The products at the center of the dispute are t-shirts. You may have seen

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A couple of hours ago Kare 11 News in Minneapolis reported "Lions Tap wins settlement with McDonalds."

Absolutely no details about the settlement were provided, so it’s hard to understand how Kare 11 is able to pronounce this as a "win" for Lion’s Tap over McDonalds, although it certainly plays into the seductive David and Goliath

The Minneapolis Star Tribune finally reported on the Who’s Your Patty? trademark infringement lawsuit filed in August by self-proclaimed "David" (Lion’s Tap) against "Goliath" (McDonald’s), here. Our previous coverage is here, here, and here.

The Star Tribune reports that McDonald’s has not yet answered the complaint filed by Lion’s Tap. That’s true, but all that means is that Lion’s Tap filed, but has not yet formally served the complaint on McDonald’s. Had the complaint been formally served on McDonald’s, as the rules require before an obligation to answer arises, then McDonald’s would have twenty days in which to respond. So, the parties continue to negotiate for an amicable settlement. 

No doubt, "David" would prefer not to have to formally serve the complaint because that is when the federal court’s machinery starts to turn and more significant money begins to be spent in pursuing the case. Of course, Lion’s Tap will need to formally serve the complaint on McDonald’s within 120 days of filing the complaint or risk the suit being dismissed, so, just before year end. We previously have discussed the strategy of filing, but not immediately serving federal court complaints, here.

The Star Tribune story also reports: "The Lion’s Tap says it has been using the phrase for at least four years and has had it trademarked in Minnesota. It also has a federal trademark application submitted." The use of past tense "had" appears to repeat the same incorrect fact that most of the media ran with when the story originally broke, namely, that Lion’s Tap had registered Who’s Your Patty? as a trademark slogan before McDonald’s began use of the same slogan, implying McDonald’s knowingly "stole" something of Lion’s Tap.

As you may recall, we already pointed out how nearly all the media outlets got this critical fact wrong, as Lion’s Tap did not register until ten days before it filed suit against McDonald’s, and well after McDonald’s posted billboards bearing the slogan. All the Hamburglar references don’t stick to McDonald’s if it knew nothing about Lion’s Tap’s discrete prior use of the Who’s Your Patty? slogan, an entirely plausible scenario, as we have already discussed, here.

Most interesting, at least to me, are the scores of reader comments to the Star Tribune story, here.

For the time being, they reveal that, for just about every enthusiastic Lion’s Tap fan who loves to support the small fry and is cheering on "David" there is a pretty harsh critic of Lion’s Tap, some even taking pot shots at the quality of its food. Indeed, it appears a substantial number would endorse Jason Voiovich’s caution: "Here’s the problem, instead of coming off as the victim (which you could argue Lion’s Tap is), they come off as another coffee-in-the-crotch, show-me-the-money, lawsuit-happy opportunist." So, you might say that PR can cut both ways.

The comments also understandably reveal more confusion between Lion’s Tap and Lyon’s Pub than between David’s and Goliath’s respective uses of Who’s Your Patty?

Also, I learned from the comments about another reportedly great burger joint that appears to be worth the extra drive: Hopper’s Bar in Waconia. I’ll make sure to let you know how that goes. So, beware, PR efforts can unintentionally inform even loyal patrons of competitive alternatives too!

More on the legal claims, after the jump, in case you’re interested.


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As promised, here are some additional thoughts (beyond the very frank and practical non-legal advice already shared by Jason Voiovich) about Lion’s Tap’s trademark infringement case against McDonald’s over the “Who’s Your Patty?” slogan.

Here’s the multi-million dollar question: What did McDonald’s know and when did they know it? Those are questions likely

A brief study in how the Lion’s Tap could have had its burger and eaten it too.

I have to say, in the interest of full disclosure, I have an irrational love for the Lion’s Tap.

Ever since I worked in Eden Prairie back in the 1990s, I’ve been hooked. Fast forward the better part of a decade, put our family a cool 35 miles away in Shoreview, and we still find ourselves driving nearly an hour on special occasions to grab a burger.

That’s part of what made me so damn mad when I saw McDonald’s latest billboards. Who’s your patty? For Angus burgers? You’ve got to be kidding. Lion’s Tap is "my" patty, thank you very much! They’ve had the slogan on their tastefully tacky t-shirts for over four years.

I thought about it though. I know Lion’s Tap. But my guess is that only a small smattering of people do (perhaps 3-4% of the Twin Cities population if you were to survey). Who are they going to think came up with the slogan? And if they walked into Lion’s Tap tomorrow, who would you think was ripping off whom? That’s right. You guessed it.

It bugged me. I was a bit upset. I was ready to come to my restaurant’s defense.

Until they sued.

You can read more here, but the fact of the matter is that Lion’s Tap decided to run to the courts to remedy what is calls a trademark infringement case.

Here’s the problem, instead of coming off as the victim (which you could argue Lion’s Tap is), they come off as another coffee-in-the-crotch, show-me-the-money, lawsuit-happy opportunist. Just read some of the news stories and read some of the comments to see what I mean, here, here, and here.

Ick.

Let’s explore what Lion’s Tap "could have" done differently, and how it might have panned out.


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Taglines and advertising slogans can be wonderful branding and marketing tools, but I’m thinking (not Arby’s, by the way) that McDonald’s is probably not thinkin’ that its (likely) famous I’m lovin’ it tagline accurately describes its taste for the federal trademark infringement lawsuit that Twin Cities-based Lion’s Tap recently slapped on McDonald’s for its whopper of an advertising campaign — promoting its new Angus Third Pounders — served up with the clever and simple play-on-words advertising slogan and question: Who’s Your Patty?

No doubt, McDonald’s likely will not make a run for the border, instead, it likely will instruct its team of lawyers to think outside the bun in designing a successful legal defense and response strategy, in the hope of not hearing the court say to Lion’s Tap in the end, have it your way.

For your reading pleasure, here is a pdf copy of the complaint filed last Friday in Minnesota federal district court. As you will see from the Minnesota State Who’s Your Patty? Certificate of Registration (attached to the filed complaint), Lion’s Tap waited to register its claimed mark in Minnesota until August 18, 2009, ten days before filing suit. As a result, Lion’s Tap clearly did not register the tagline “four years ago,” or back in 2005 (the year it claims to have commenced use), as incorrectly reported ad nauseam, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Well, at least a couple of the media outlets covering the story avoided the mistake, and got the registration date right.

So, why is the date of registration significant? If McDonald’s didn’t know about Lion’s Tap’s use before rolling out its own use of “Who’s Your Patty?” — an entirely plausible scenario, since the mark was not registered, even in Minnesota, until well after and apparently in response to McDonald’s already commenced use — it starts to look like a much different case for Lion’s Tap (more un-Hamburglar-like), for reasons I’ll explain later.


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