Downtown bar sued by heirs of famous drunk

by Amy Kingsley

A six-month-old downtown bar that shares a name with a famous writer has raised the ire of the late author’s estate, prompting a trademark infringement lawsuit against an owner who asserts the name came from his pet bulldog.

The estate of legendary souse and Nobel Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway filed a civil suit Dec. 15 alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition in US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. According to the complaint, Hemingway, Ltd., the corporation owned by the writer’s descendants, has total control over the use of the famous name and likeness.

Jeffrey Schleuning, the owner and operator of Hemingway’s Downtown, a bar with Elm Street frontage, has long said he named the bar after a beloved pet English bulldog. His lawyer, David Sar, said the bar is not trying to associate itself with the author.

‘“We don’t think there’s been any violation,’” Sar said. ‘“When you go into the restaurant, you don’t see motifs you associate with Ernest Hemingway. There aren’t any marlins, or boats or bells.’”

The lawsuit has been filed but not yet served. There are at least two options for the parties involved: they can reach an agreement or take the matter to court. Right now the lawyers representing both parties are talking, Sar said.

The Lanham Trademark Act of 1946 defines a trademark as ‘“any word, name, symbol, or device’… used ‘…to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others.’” Product names such as M&M’s, Dr Pepper and Scrabble qualify as trademarks. Trademark infringement occurs when a consumer might be misled about the source of goods and services.

The plaintiffs allege that Hemingway’s Downtown patrons might believe the bar was approved or originated by members of the estate. Sar said that naming the bar ‘“Hemingway’s’” was not an attempt to deceive customers.

Both sides have different stories about communications that occurred when the bar opened in June. Hemingway, Ltd. lawyers contend that they sent a cease and desist letter in June to which Schleuning never responded. Sar said the bar owner sent a letter to the estate around the same time but did not hear back from the descendants.

The plaintiffs are seeking three times the profits, gains and advantages from the trademark infringement and the destruction of all signs, forms, letterheads or anything else with a Hemingway’s logo. The suit also seeks reimbursement for court costs and lawyers’ fees.

‘— by Amy Kingsley