Brunswick inns going to court in naming dispute

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BRUNSWICK — Does confusion between two local inns warrant ordering a name change by one of them?

Eileen Horner, owner of The Brunswick Inn, believes it does, which is why she is hoping a federal judge will order The Inn at Brunswick Station to change its name.

Lawyers for the two inns, which are a quarter of a mile from each other, will argue their clients’ cases in what is expected to be a three-day jury trial starting Monday, Dec. 16, in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The Brunswick Inn, in an 1848 federal-style home at 165 Park Row, has been operating under its name since 2009. The Inn at Brunswick Station, at 4 Noble St. and owned by JHR Development, began operating in June 2011.

The Brunswick Inn sued its competitor early last year, to force The Inn at Brunswick Station to change its name. It later was granted a state trademark on its name from the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions, which allowed the inn to claim violation of state law in a amended complaint filed in April 2012.

“The likelihood of continued confusion on the part of consumers resulting from (JHR’s) use of the name The Inn at Brunswick Station will irreparably harm The Brunswick Inn,” the amended complaint said, “and will undo all of its hard work in establishing its own identity.”

James Goggin, an attorney from Portland-based Verrill Dana representing The Brunswick Inn,  on Tuesday said these instances of confusion happen “almost every day,” ranging from patrons arriving at the wrong inn, to vendors delivering goods to the wrong location.

“We know of several instances where someone showed up at our place and said they had a reservation,” he said, “where in fact they had a reservation at The Inn at Brunswick Station.”

In one case, Goggin said, the Fire Department responded to the wrong building after receiving a call from The Inn at Brunswick Station.

“That’s obviously a matter of safety,” he said.

Frank Gaeta, an attorney at Boston-based Rich May, who represents The Inn at Brunswick Station, said The Brunswick Inn’s position is unfair.

“We don’t think (it) should have a monopoly over the words ‘Brunswick’ and ‘Inn,'” Gaeta said. “It’s our view we should have the basic freedom to use a name that tells the kind of business we’re running and where it’s located.”

Gaeta said it’s important to note that the Fire Department example used by Goggin only happened once. He added that other instances of confusion need to be considered in a greater context.

“The number of episodes of confusion need to be considered in the context of all the thousands of people who have patronized both inns,” he said. “It’s relatively small.” 

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.