Summerfest suing Red Lobster over promotional campaign

The South Gate to the Summerfest grounds, officially known as Henry Maier Festival Park.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:23 pm

Milwaukee World Festival Inc., the organizer of Summerfest, is suing the Red Lobster restaurant chain for its “Lobster and Shrimp Summerfest,” alleging the promotion infringes on the Big Gig’s trademark.

The South Gate to the Summerfest grounds, officially known as Henry Maier Festival Park.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin, seeks an order blocking Red Lobster from using the trademark for commercial purposes along with the payment of damages to Milwaukee World Festival. Summerfest is also seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the use of the term in the current promotional campaign.

The dispute between the two organizations dates back to last year when attorneys for Summerfest sent a letter to Red Lobster declaring the “Lobster and Shrimp Summerfest” campaign, which was promoted in national publications and on social media, violated the Summerfest trademark. The letter asked Red Lobster to abandon use of the trademark and threatened litigation, citing the impending start of the 2016 version of the festival.

Attorneys for Red Lobster responded by arguing there was no infringement, citing its own use of “-fest” in other promotions and a number of other events held around the country that included “Summerfest” in the name.

“Red Lobster’s Lobster & Shrimp Summerfest promotion conveys a commercial impression consistent with Red Lobster’s other in-restaurant seafood offerings, namely, a seasonal menu promotion offer great taste and value under the auspices of the famous Red Lobster brand,” attorneys for the restaurant chain wrote.

Summerfest attorneys countered that food vendors at Summerfest are authorized to use the trademark, including a number that sell seafood. They also contended that none of the other events Red Lobster pointed to were in Wisconsin. In another letter the Summerfest attorneys noted Wisconsin festivals with a similar name had agreements in place to avoid potential trademark infringement.

The Summerfest attorneys suggested Red Lobster abandon use of the term in Wisconsin. Red Lobster countered by offering to make sure the promotions always referenced “Lobster & Shrimp Summerfest” and appeared with the Red Lobster trademark.

Summerfest attorneys contended the restaurant’s national advertising campaign meant consumers were exposed to it on a daily basis during the festival’s run, “which has resulted in actual confusion in the marketplace.”

Red Lobster did not respond to the final Summerfest letter in 2016 and switched to its Crabfest promotion.

When the Lobster & Shrimp Summerfest promotion began again in 2017, Summerfest attorneys again wrote to Red Lobster on June 6 indicating the campaign represented a trademark infringement. The letter suggested the restaurant use the Crabfest marketing instead and demanded the chain abandon the use of Summerfest.

Red Lobster attorneys responded June 9 by pointing to their earlier letters laying out the company’s view that the campaign was not an infringement.

Summerfest attorney sent another letter arguing their point of view on June 22, but received an email the next day from Red Lobster attorneys indicating a response would not be sent until after July 5.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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