Under threat of local lawsuit by chain, local restaurant changes name

John Burleson

Burger U changed its name to Tuscaloosa Burger after receiving a legal notice from the owners of the popular Wings U restaurant. The new restaurant underwent the change in name after a vigorous campaign on both social media sites and on the ground to promote the new website.

Dan Robinson, a Louisiana native who moved to Tuscaloosa to start his new business, explained his views on the legalities.

“We were sent a legal notice, but we are pretty sure that we had a strong case and good legal ground to stand on. I mean the letter U is pretty much, in my opinion, public domain,” Robinson said. “You look at universities, colleges and high schools across the country and restaurants too and tons of them use the letter U in a similar way that we were.”

Alan Durham, an expert on intellectual property with the University of Alabama Law School, added insight on the legalities of the case in an emailed statement.

“I presume that the owners of Wings U have a trademark claim in mind — technically it would be a service mark because the restaurant is considered a service rather than a good, but the principle is the same,” Durham said. “They would argue that the name Burger U is so confusingly similar that consumers would believe the restaurants to be related.”

Robinson also spoke about how he came to the decision to change the name instead of fighting the lawsuit in court, and the cost of the overall name change.

“I understand that there could be some confusion with the name that we could be associated with Wings U. We definitely did not want that, and I know that they did not want that either, so I definitely understand why they might have been upset,” Robinson said. “I’m an individual who moved from Louisiana to here to start this business.”

Robinson said he looked at a number of places such as College Station to start his restaurant before he ultimately decided on Tuscaloosa.

“My lawyer told me that I could be spending upwards of $75,000 in court, and I ultimately do not have that kind of money to throw around,” he said.

Durham explained that the court’s decision could be a tossup between the two companies.

“Courts apply a host of factors in deciding whether such confusion is likely – including the distinctiveness of the trademark in question (e.g., is it an invented term or a commonly-used descriptive one), the similarity of the marks, the similarity of the goods, and whether there is evidence that confusion has already occurred,” he said. “I wouldn’t speculate on how it might come out.”

Robinson expressed how stressful the experience had been since they had received the notice, but that it had cost him less in the long run to change the name and stay out of court.

“You know, we lost a little momentum, having to change the name, and I had to put up a new sign and have new t-shirts made. So in total I have probably spent $15,000 to get everything changed over. So, in all, a lot less than what I would have spent in court,” Robinson said. “It has been stressful. I am here every day, I have been training people, training cooks with my recipes and running the business and it has been very stressful having to do all of this on top of changing the name.”

Robinson said he has been to city hall, the county and the ABC Board to get the name changed on all of his licenses.

“We had even trademarked the name in other states in case we decided to expand into other places,” he said. “It has just been very stressful.”

Ramey Edwards, a University of Alabama alum who received her bachelor’s degree in journalism last year, said the name change had taken her by surprise but had not changed her opinion of the restaurant.

“I did hear that they had changed their name and it threw me off a little bit when I went to eat,” Edwards said. “Still, it was really good and the name change will not stop me from going back. I enjoyed it.”

Bob Baumhower, the CEO of Aloha Hospitality International, which runs Wings U, did not respond with comments by press time.

Leading in today’s Crimson White:

Engineering students prepare for robotics competition

Student-run delivery system caters to campus community

Bat infestation prompts temporary relocation