Hard Rock Files Bogus Trademark Lawsuit v. RockStar Hotels
Hard Rock Cafe has filed a bogus trademark infringement lawsuit against the Florida-based hotel booking service, RockStar Hotels. Exactly two people in the entire world think the case is a good idea: Some idiot in-house at Hard Rock and some big firm attorney who stands to generate $500,000 in fees before losing the case in spectacular fashion. Let’s take a look:
Hard Rock started as a chain of restaurants back in the early 1970s and eventually branched out into hotels and casinos. We all know the iconic Hard Rock Logo:
In contrast, RockStar Hotels bills itself as a “luxury travel community.” Basically, members sign up for the service, pay a $100 annual fee and get access to various hotel perks and discounts. To be clear: RockStar Hotels is not an actual hotel chain. They do not have an actual hotel called the RockStar Hotel. It is purely a hotel booking and hotel perk service (and, to be perfectly candid, rather inartfully done). And yet: Hard Rock maintains that RockStar is confusing customers by offering a “Rock Star Experience” at “Rock Star Collection” hotels with “Rock Star Amenities.” Is RockStar engaging in some silly, over-the-top marketing? Absolutely. Is RockStar engaging in trademark infringement? Of course not. Although both companies are in the broader hotel space, (1) the names aren’t similar enough to be confusing and (2) the product/service being offered is distinct. But maybe it’s visual. Maybe RockStar’s logo is deceptively similar? Wrong again:
As you can see, the Rock Star logo bears absolutely no resemblance to the Hard Rock logo. Yes, Hard Rock has a recognizable logo and a protectable “trade dress”. But Rock Star isn’t knocking that off. Hard Rock has the iconic yellow and red logo. Rock Star? Nothing remotely similar. Their logo is completely different in terms shape, style and color scheme (purple and grey). The upshot: This case is bogus. There is no trademark infringement. There is no trade dress infringement. Nobody is confused. RockStar Hotels is not engaging in any sort of unfair competition whatsoever.
- Frivolous Litigation: When most people talk about frivolous litigation, they’re talking about personal injury cases and ambulance chasers. But that’s only a fraction of the problem. The most frivolous lawsuits I see filed today are frivolous non-compete, trademark and trade secret cases. Why? Because if someone files a bogus slip and fall case, courts will do all they can to toss the case out and express their disapproval. But if someone files a bogus trademark infringement case? It’s as if anyone who files a trademark infringement suit gets a presumption of legitimacy. Let’s call this out for what it is: A frivolous lawsuit.
- Lawyer-Driven: I can’t opine on how this case actually came into existence. Maybe it’s client-driven. Maybe Hard Rock insisted on filing suit. Conversely, maybe it’s lawyer-driven. I find that lots of unfair competition cases – whether non-compete, trademark or trade secret – are lawyer driven. The client goes to their (big firm) lawyers and says, “Here’s what’s going on. We want to file suit.” And rather push back against the client and convince them not to pursue a frivolous lawsuit, these lawyers enthusiastically encourage litigation. I see it happen all the time. Luckily for me, I own a small litigation shop and do what I want. I have no interest in pursuing frivolous cases. I routinely turn away paid billable work because I (1) think the case is bogus or (2) morally disagree with it. But many of my brethren in the profession aren’t so discerning. If Hard Rock brought this case to me, I would have turned it down no matter how much they would have paid me.
- Brand Protection: Some people argue that big companies have to be aggressive in policing their brands and their intellectual property. They claim that lawsuits like this are a good example of brand protection. I disagree. Filing bogus lawsuits and losing spectacularly doesn’t protect your brand. To the contrary: It makes you look like an idiot.
The case is Hard Rock Cafe International USA Inc. et al v. RockStar Hotels, case number 0:17-cv-62013, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Jonathan Pollard is a competition lawyer based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and has extensive experience litigating unfair competition, trademark and false advertising cases. For more information, call 954-332-2380.