Fighting Over Public: Theater Sues Ian Schrager’s Hotel for Trademark Infringement

Posted on: February 25th, 2019 at 5:05 am by

There is a very public fight afoot over use of the name.

The Public Theater filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel last Thursday. The beef is over theatrical petformances in connection with the Public name and logo, as first reported by The New York Times.

Located a mere one-and-a-half miles apart on the Lower East Side, the downtown institution alleges that the 28-story Chrystie Street newcomer violated its trademarks by employing the name “Public” — as well a suspiciously similar logo — to advertise theater and musical events at the hotel. In particular, according to the lawsuit, when the Public hotel hosted an extended run of “Carmen: To Havana and Back,” an adaptation of the Broadway musical “Carmen Jones.”

The complaint, filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, further argues that the hotel’s use of “Public” in marketing such events confuses customers and could lead to the erroneous assumption that the performances are associated with the famed nonprofit theater on Lafayette Street.

What’s interesting is that the hotel filed a trademark before the theater. Excerpts from the article below:

Ian Schrager Company registered a trademark for “PUBLIC” in 2012, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office database, the year after Mr. Schrager opened a hotel with that name in Chicago. The trademark is listed as being used in connection with hotel services.

Mr. Willingham of the Public Theater said he had no problem with Mr. Schrager using the name in association with a hotel. But he said a line was crossed when the name and logo was linked to entertainment, including music and theater.

The Public Theater did not register its “PUBLIC” trademark or its boldfaced logo until October 2017, after Mr. Schrager opened his hotel on the Lower East Side. According to the Patent and Trademark Office database, the theater filed applications for the trademarks in 2015.

Despite its relatively recent claim to the trademark, the Public Theater still has a strong claim to its logo because it began using the design commercially starting in the 1990s, said Barton Beebe, a professor of intellectual property law at New York University.

According to the lawsuit, the Public Theater notified Mr. Schrager’s company twice in the fall of 2017 about its objections to the hotel’s use of the name and logo. A statement from Mr. Willingham said that he was unaware of whether Mr. Schrager himself knew of the objections but that the theater had tried to “settle this matter” with Mr. Schrager’s team. The team refused to do so, Mr. Willingham said.

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