RLH Corporation (NYSE:RLH) today announced the filing of a lawsuit against Hard Rock Café International in federal court in New York. The complaint alleges, among other things, that Hard Rock copied RLH Corporation's distinctive trade dress for its Hotel RL brand, which is protected by federal trade dress law.
Over the past few years, RLH Corporation has built a distinctive brand focused on the millennial mindset for its Hotel RL chain. The brand consciously evokes RLH Corporation's Pacific Northwest heritage, with signature elements that include a prominent coffee bar attended by trained baristas; a Living Stage, where local artists, musicians, activists, civic leaders, and engaged citizens can showcase their projects and points of view; "The Steps," a communal, stadium-like seating area across from The Living Stage, where hotel guests and visitors can relax with their cup of coffee, plug in and work on their laptop, or take in a Living Stage performance; and a tech-savvy, forward-thinking front-desk experience that replaces the traditional across-the-counter room check-in process with a flexible approach that allows guests, if they desire, to bypass reception and check in via self-service kiosks or directly from their mobile devices.
In the more than two years since Hotel RL's public launch, hotel travelers and property owners have come to associate the brand's signature design elements with RLH Corporation and Hotel RL. There are currently seven hotels under the Hotel RL brand, and RLH Corporation has plans to meaningfully expand the brand over the next several years.
Given the distinctiveness of the Hotel RL brand, RLH Corporation was surprised to discover in June that Hard Rock had decided to launch a competing brand - called Reverb - also aimed at millennials, which RLH Corporation believes plagiarizes the Hotel RL signature elements. It also learned that Hard Rock had hired the same branding group used by RLH Corporation to help define the Hotel RL brand - The Gettys Group.
"While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it is indeed understandable that Hard Rock would seek to imitate our brand's success in this market, we are not appreciative of Hard Rock's wholesale infringement of our trade dress with The Gettys Group's help," says RLH Corporation President and CEO Greg Mount. "Hard Rock's infringement is particularly troubling in light of its aggressive litigation strategy to protect what it considers to be its own trade dress. RLH Corporationwelcomes fair competition, but infringement of our trade dress is unfair and illegal. We are prepared to defend our brands and will pursue all avenues available to RLH Corporation to ensure that all of our brands are protected."
RLH Corporation's complaint seeks compensatory damages, an injunction, Hard Rock's profits from its Reverb chain, and legal fees and costs.
In addition to pursuing a lawsuit against Hard Rock, RLH Corporation is enforcing its rights and remedies under its contract with The Gettys Group which it believes is in breach given the similarity in work produced for Hard Rock.
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