Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has these famous, if hackneyed, lines “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But when two businesses vie for the same name in the same town the name can be pivotal to each one’s business strategy. And as The New York Times reports, that is currently the case with Elad properties owners of the storied and lushly restored Plaza Hotel in New York and Tamares Las Vegas Properties, the owners of a “weathered 35-year-old joint in this city’s decaying downtown core with $39 rooms and a buffet that always costs $7.77”.
For now, both parties seem to be doggedly sticking to their guns with Tamares Properties asking “the Clark County District Court to issue a preliminary injunction against Elad’s use of the name” with their Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth Landfield stating that ““That’s the name of our business. It’s been the name of our business for more than 30 years.” For its part, Elad, with presumably considerably more powder in their armory, saying that the “company owned the United States trademark registration to the name, giving Elad, a subsidiary of El Ad U.S. Holdings, “superior rights over the use of Plaza by Tamares, which was adopted only relatively recently.” The plaintiff in the case has also “dismissed the possibility that it might try to buy the name from Tamares, a tactic used by the casino mogul Steve Wynn in 1988 to buy the name “The Mirage” from two small Las Vegas motel”.
History points to such an impasse not necessarily being resolved by more firepower as was the case with the Wyndham name in New York City when a New York judge ruled in 1988 that “Wyndham Hotel Corporation of Dallas is barred from using the Wyndham name in Manhattan”. In that instance the Goliath (Wyndham corporation – no relation to the present owners of the Wyndham name), with the arguably greater claim to the name lost out to the David (John Mados, owner of the Wyndham Hotel on New York’s 58th Street) with the judge ruling that he had exclusive rights to the name in Manhattan until May 31, 2020! Ultimately, the matter was settled several years later presumably on a business driven impetus, rather than a legal one.
Other notable instances of companies stumbling, perhaps inadvertently, when choosing names include “McSleep” by Choice Hotels which got McDonald’s gander up and was dropped quite rapidly with the aid of a permanent judicial injunction while, outside the industry, the McDonald Corporation has, over the years, snuffed out numerous smaller businesses that sought, wittingly or otherwise, to play on their name. These range from McCoffee, McAllan to McCurry.
While (good) brand names form a critical part of the positioning strategy for hotels and hotel companies, the need to approach its preservation with the right framework is important. Equities in such cases often play less of a role than the right balance of legal and business acumen that is necessary to ensuring the brand’s success.