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California businesses clash over intellectual property

Last October, wildfires damaged homes and businesses in northern California, especially in Sonoma and Napa. Wineries and vineyards were especially hard hit in an area world-famous for not only its wine, but also its natural beauty, cuisine and sophisticated culture.

Devastated wineries have scrambled in the aftermath of the fires to rebuild. The renovations are the genesis of a heated intellectual property dispute between the Caymus Builders construction firm of Sonoma and Caymus Vineyards of Napa. Owners of the vineyards allege that the builders have made “unauthorized and unlawful use” of their trademark.

The dispute apparently began last fall when the construction firm began putting up advertising signs in the area, apparently in search of contracts to rebuild vineyards and wineries. The family-owned Caymus Vineyards claim that the use of the name “Caymus” constitutes trademark infringement, dilution and unfair competition.

In court documents, the vineyard alleges that the infringement is “likely to cause confusion, deception, and mistake by creating the false and misleading impression that Defendants’ goods or services are associated, affiliated, or connected with Plaintiff.”

The lawsuit notes that some of the construction firm’s signs are near vineyard properties, which heightens the impression that the two companies are somehow linked or are one and the same.

In their complaint, vineyard owners also note that their business is known in far-flung places because of its use in television programs such as “Will & Grace,” “The Ellen Show,” “Friends” and “Californication,” among others.

A representative of the construction firm stated that “Caymus” is the name “of a historical California Indian tribe” and that the two companies are not in competition.

We don’t know how the dispute will be resolved, but we do know it is vital for businesses to protect intellectual property, including trademarks, patents and copyrights. Contact an attorney experienced in protecting rights and interests in these matters.

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