Coyote Ugly sues Parkersburg bar for similar name

By Kelly Holleran | Jun 9, 2010

PARKERSBURG -- The owner of the bar that formed the basis of the movie "Coyote Ugly" claims a Parkersburg bar threatens to tarnish its image by using a similar name as it.

Ugly filed a lawsuit April 29 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against Coyote Gone Wild and owner Suzi Ramirez.

Ugly claims it began using its Coyote Ugly mark in 1993 when it opened a bar in New York City and has since opened bars and saloons across the United States featuring an all-female staff of bartenders and waitresses who are referred to as "Coyotes."

"The Coyotes are clothed in jeans or jean shorts, cropped shirts, cowboy boots, and hats," the suit states. "The Coyotes entertain the Coyote Ugly Bars' customers by singing and performing clogging-style dances on the bar. The interiors of the Coyote Ugly bars are characterized by an intentionally rusticated or weathered style and frequently, by the items of women's lingerie hung behind the bar."

Ugly's bar and story experienced world-wide fame after Disney/Touchstone Pictures released the movie "Coyote Ugly," based on the activities of the bar's founder, Liliana Lovell, in founding and developing her bars. The movie grossed $114 million, according to the complaint.

The bars received heightened prominence after Country Music Television aired a popular television series called "The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search" from 2006 through 2008, the complaint says.

"The Mark's fame is also indicated by the frequency with which it is referenced in pop-culture, having been mentioned on television programs such as Jeopardy, as a Final Jeopardy answer, King of Queens, Family Guy, The Office and others," the suit states.

In fact, the bar has become so famous, it grosses about $30 million, according to the complaint.

On Nov. 19, after learning of Parkersburg bar Coyote Gone Wild, Ugly claims it sent a letter requesting the bar to cease from its infringing activities. Among the activities that Ugly claims constitute infringement on it are the Parkersburg bar's use of the name and a display sign "Coyote Gone Wild," a registration of a limited liability company called "Coyote Gone Wild," Coyote Thursdays held at the establishment, a reference to their employees as "Coyote Girls" or "Coyote dancers," a staff-wide imitation dress code the same as Coyote Ugly's and promotion of the establishment in such a manner that leads customers to believe it is connected with Ugly's bars.

"Defendants, in adopting a name which they are using in commerce that encompasses the key element of Plaintiff's trademark, through mimicking Plaintiff's trade dress and promoting their services to customers by using a name substantially similar to the Mark, have caused and/or likely to cause confusion, mistake and deception within the consuming public as to the source, origin, sponsorship or approval of Defendants' bar and services, particularly at the point of purchase, such that the purchasing public is likely to incorrectly believe that Defendant's establishment is sanctioned and endorsed by, or otherwise associated with the Coyote Ugly Bars," the complaint says.

Coyote Gone Wild has not only opened a bar similar to Ugly's, but has also started a Web site that has the possibility to attract nationwide attention, Ugly claims.

"The association arising from the similarity between Defendant's mark and Plaintiff's mark is harming the reputation of Plaintiff's Mark," the suit states. "Defendant's establishment is an imitation of a Coyote Ugly Bar, but one that fails to observe the standards and specifications to which all genuine Coyote Ugly Bars are held. The inferior, shoddy appearance and generally low quality of the Coyote Gone Wild establishment is likely to tarnish the Mark, which Plaintiff has invested significant time and money establishing."

For example, Ugly claims it hires only females with demonstrable talent not objectified in a "tawdry" matter -- a fact not true for employees of Coyote Gone Wild. For example, the Parkersburg bar hosted two female wrestling events in which young women wrestled in cake batter and features various stages, a stripper pole and female employees dancing for tips, according to the complaint.

Because of Coyote Gone Wild and Ramirez, Ugly faces a threat of irreparable injury and has lost sales and profits, the complaint says.

It alleges violations of the Lanham Act.

In its four-count complaint, Ugly seeks actual and consequential damages of more than $75,000; the defendants' profits; punitive damages of at least $10 million; a preliminary and permanent injunction against the defendants preventing them from using the name Coyote Gone Wild, from advertising or using the word Coyote or Ugly, from using trade dress associated with Ugly's bars and from infringing Ugly's trademark in any other fashion; attorneys' fees; costs; and other relief the court deems just.

Andrew G. Fusco and Paul E. Parker III of Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff and Love in Morgantown will be representing it.

U.S. District Court case number: 6:10-cv-693

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