Friday, August 26, 2011

Another Epic Trademark Battle Prematurely Ends With Amicable, Reasonable Settlement

Tropicana Las Vegas

In one of my longer blog posts last year (link here), I detailed the convoluted and complicated history of the TROPICANA Hotel/Casino trademark – a fascinating look at how trademark rights are handled in the course of multiple large scale corporate transactions (including bankruptcy proceedings) and how certain things can (and indeed do) fall through the cracks.

What started out as a simple declaratory judgment action in Nevada state court by the new owners of the Tropicana Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas regarding their long-time right to use the name Tropicana in connection with that specific hotel/casino located at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Tropicana Avenue blew up into an epic lawsuit filed in Delaware Bankruptcy Court by a group of companies lead by Carl Icahn's Tropicana Entertainment Inc. The matters had been fully briefed by both sides and were awaiting a court hearing.

But alas, now we’ll never know how exactly the bankruptcy court would’ve unraveled the convoluted trademark issues raised by Tropicana Entertainment’s adversary proceeding (we know how the Clark County District Court decided those issues, but that is in part what led to Tropicana Entertainment to file the adversary proceeding it did in bankruptcy court).

As reported by VegasInc’s Steve Green (link here), the parties announced in mid-August that they had reached a Settlement that resolves the outstanding trademark disputes and which provides for an agreement regarding concurrent use by both parties of the mark TROPICANA. A copy of the Settlement Agreement, with all of its provisions regarding concurrent use of the Tropicana name by the respective parties, can be viewed here.

In short, Tropicana Las Vegas can continue to use the mark TROPICANA LAS VEGAS (or TROP LAS VEGAS) or TROPICANA LV (or TROP LV) in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada and within a 50 mile radius from the present location of the Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. Tropicana Las Vegas can promote itself worldwide so long as it always mentions the property location. Tropicana Las Vegas does not get any other rights to use the mark TROPICANA, TROP, or any variation thereof apart from its rights to use the mark in reference to its Las Vegas property (although a small exception is made for on-property signage and certain marketing campaigns such as “Trop ‘Til You Drop” and “Trop Party Pass” so long as there is also a reference to the Las Vegas location). The agreement expressly consents to Tropicana Las Vegas’s use of the following logo

and clarifies that in any other logos used by Tropicana Las Vegas, the Las Vegas (or LV) portion of the mark shall not be smaller or less prominent in proportion to TROPICANA or TROP than as reflected in the above logo.

As for what Tropicana Entertainment gets out the deal, it gets the exclusive rights to use TROPICANA and TROP, but provided that it also is accompanied by some other mark indicating either a geographic location (other than Las Vegas obviously) or some other mark to identify services currently offered by Tropicana Entertainment (e.g., Tropicana Advantage).

The Agreement also deals with how the parties will handle present and future trademark registrations for marks using TROPICANA, use of their respective marks on the Internet, and issues relating to enforcement of rights in their respective territories.

By entering into this Settlement Agreement (with concurrent use provision regarding the trademark rights), the parties certainly ended up doing the smart thing in reaching an amicable settlement – bringing to a halt a dispute that had likely cost the parties millions of dollars in attorney fees and costs (fees that would have continued to be incurred given the high stakes) and doing so in a way that brings certainty to the rights of the parties moving forward. And it was probably the fair outcome given the long-time association that the world does have with the name Tropicana in connection with that particular hotel in Las Vegas while at the same time recognizing Tropicana Entertainment's investment in the name outside of Las Vegas.

Of course, at the same time, it would’ve been interesting to see which way the bankruptcy court would have sided in this dispute (and the legal rationale for such decision).

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