Sept. 24th, 2021 Gathering Place LLC folded a trademark infringement lawsuit against The Gathering Place in Shawnee.
According to Tulsaworld.com, “The filing indicates that Gathering Place, the 66.5-acre park which opened along a stretch of Riverside Drive in 2018 at a cost of $400 million, recently became aware of the coffee shop’s existence after reportedly receiving complaints from park patrons.”
The Tulsa World article went on to state that, “Gathering Place representatives accused the coffee shop, identified as Bayly Coffee LLC in court documents, of using its name in bad faith and causing confusion among other complaints levied against the small business. [. . . .] Stated in a 15-page document, Gathering Place suggested that the coffee shop use of The Gathering Place moniker started after the park’s ‘extensive promotion and priority date of the Gathering Place marks.”
The claims made by the lawsuit have brought much controversy, with many claiming that the primary function of the two entities, one being a park and one being a coffee shop, make for an unreasonable claim, as well as the physical distance between the two businesses.
According to Krjh.com, “Attorneys representing the Gathering Place filed the suit on Friday. They claim The Gathering Place Coffee Company advertises similar services to the park-like event spaces and coffee shops.
The park says that has created confusion among park patrons. It’s unclear when the park was notified. However, representatives for the park say it has received complaints from park-goers about the mix-up.”
It is important to note that Gathering Place in Tulsa is “a world-class park,” according to the Gathering Place website, and offers “a welcoming, natural space where members of our diverse communities could come together to explore, learn and play.” This means due to the theme-park element Gathering Place offers, concessions and food services are offered at the park. The Redbud Café at the park offers coffee and pastries.
On September 25th, The Gathering Place in Shawnee took to Facebook to communicate with concerned patrons. As part of a longer post the coffee shop said, “There are a few things we’d like you, our community, to know. On Friday, The Gathering Place Park in Tulsa filed a lawsuit claiming we were intentionally trying to profit from their trademark. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We, the Hilton’s and Ingram’s, love our community and our town so deeply. It’s always been our hope to provide high quality and unique coffee beverages and baked goods, as well as to create a comfortable and welcoming space for you and your families to enjoy.”
It is important to note that the Hilton and Ingram families run The Gathering Place in Shawnee.
While both sides can make appealing cases from emotional and financial perspectives, the ultimate interpretation is up to the law.
Dr. Charles Mashek, Juris Doctor, Medical Doctors and OBU Adjunct Professor of Business Law classes offered an explanation of the possible paths and outcomes that could be derived from the trademark infringement lawsuit.
Mashek said, “There are several key components that are important for someone to understand for trademarks. Typically, it is who registers first, but here it’s a complex case so I can’t give you a, they’re going to win, which is normal for any law case.”
Dr. Mashek then announced the substitution of Tulsa for Gathering Place and Shawnee for The Gathering Place so as to not confuse the two entities. The terminology remained consistent throughout the interview.
“The courts are going to look at [the trademark use] because you have to register a trademark, and you have to use it. This prevents people from just trademarking a million things and never using them, and waiting for someone to want to use it and then try and make money off selling it. So, if Shawnee registered it first, then they would have some rights.”
Dr. Mashek then turned his focus to the Oklahoma Statutes which state on the grounds of infringement in which, “‘(a) use, without the consent of the registrant, any reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation of a trademark registered under this act in connection with the sale, offering for sale, or advertising of any goods on or in connection with which such use is likely to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive as to the source of origin of such goods; or(b) reproduce, counterfeit, copy or colorably imitate any such trademark and apply such reproduction, counterfeit, copy or colorable imitation to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles, or advertisements intended to be used upon or in conjunction with the sale or other distribution in this state of such goods or services, shall be liable to a civil action by the owner of such registered trademark for any or all of the remedies provided in Section 12 hereof, except that under subsection (b) hereof the registrant shall not be entitled to recover profits or damages unless the acts have been committed with knowledge that such trademark is intended to be used to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive.’ Laws 1959, p. 372, § 11.”
Dr. Mashek then offered a simplification of the statues and how they relate to the case of Tulsa and Shawnee accordingly.
Dr. Mashek said, “The last couple phrases with which such use is likely to cause confusion or mistake or to deceive as to the source of the origin of such goods. The key you have to look at is the consumer. If you’re infringing, you have to be confused as to who is what. What Tulsa’s case is saying is that the Gathering Place name is confusing the customers who may be wanting to find or use the Gathering Place Park in Tulsa, the trademarks, in this case, are not absolute.”
Mashek continued, “There are some limits on trademarks because they have to cause confusion in order to satisfy the criterion of trademark infringement. Take, for example, if you had the same name of a baseball team and a farm. You’re not likely to be confused between the two of those. It’s not very likely that if you’re trying to go to a baseball game, you go to someone’s farm. I think that is the key to this case, Tulsa will have to show that their customers will be confused and accidentally go to Shawnee and spend money when they really are meant to be using the services of Tulsa. That’s really the crux of this argument, they’ll say there is confusion on it. I think it’s questionable, because one is a park and one is a small locally owned coffee shop.”
In regards to consumer confusion, the role of industry is largely at play. Mashek continued, “We have to look at what industries they’re in, the coffee shop food and service that is more recreational. Now they’ll say ‘well we serve coffee, we sell drinks,’ but if you look at Oklahoma law, it has different classes. Now, they’re not ironclad that you have to go with it, but you really have to prove that the Tulsa’s customers would be confused by Shawnee, and therefore Tulsa would somehow lose business or harm their reputation in some way.”
The notion that The Gathering Place in Shawnee has damaged the financial state and reputation of Gathering Place in Tulsa is up for debate, however, it is guaranteed that Shawnee’s The Gathering Place will suffer effects from the creation of this lawsuit.
According to Newson6.com, “Tulsa’s Gathering Place’s lawsuit against The Gathering Place Coffee shop has coffee shop owner Jesse Ingram questioning whether his business would survive the legal battle. For Ingram, having to change his shop’s name isn’t off the table, but it’s costly to completely change a small business’ brand, while paying the legal fees and fines for making money off the name.”
The article continued with Ingram saying, “‘What they’ve asked for us to repay to them for using the Gathering Place name is everything we could have. You know they would take everything from us if they won this lawsuit.’”
Most lawsuits typically end in settlement; however, settlement runs the risk of being hard to estimate in length and severity.
According to Dr. Mashek, “Settlement could take weeks to months, it really depends upon the two sides. If they’re both like ‘hey let’s settle this let’s keep it out of court,’ it can often go very quickly. If you’ve got one side who is kind of hesitant or reluctant to settle, it could drag on. If someone came out next week and said they had a settlement, it wouldn’t shock me. If they came out a year from now and didn’t have a settlement, it wouldn’t shock me. The length really depends upon the parties.”
In this particular case, the two elements that would drive negotiations would be the physical name and monetary damages.
According to Dr. Mashek, “This is a case where you’ve got two businesses who have a similar name. There are legal technicalities as to what you need to do to register your name legally. I don’t know the details, but one of them will have the name, let’s for the sake of discussion, say that the one in Tulsa had the name first, legally, then the court has to decide does someone has a legal right to it? Did they properly register it? We’re going to assume they have, then it gets back to the confusion element, the courts have to decide if the two names cause confusion. Then the court, if they find confusion, they have to decide what is the proper mechanism to combat that. Is it monetary? Does the local facility have to change its name? Or some combination of them both?”
The Gathering Place in Shawnee is located on East Main Street just minutes away from OBU.