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Two Monterey, California Hotels Litigate Over Name;  Monterey Plaza Hotel Suing
  Portola Plaza Hotel Claiming Trademark Infringement Over the Word Plaza

By Jim Johnson, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 7, 2006 - More than one plaza hotel in Monterey, it would seem, is one plaza hotel too many.

At least that's apparently the basis of a suit filed last week by the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa against the Portola Plaza Hotel.

The suit, which alleges trademark infringement and false advertising, was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

At issue, according to the suit, is the confusion caused by the former Monterey Doubletree Hotel's name change to the Portola Plaza Hotel two years ago, as well as several "false advertising claims" that the hotel has allegedly made in its promotional material.

According to Monterey Plaza Hotel general manager John Narigi, the suit was filed as a "last resort" after six months of deliberation and contact between the two hotels' ownership groups. The Monterey Plaza Hotel, a 290-room waterfront establishment perched astride Cannery Row, was built in 1986 and is owned by Menlo Park-based Woodside Hotels.

"The issue, especially with the trademark infringement, is our intent to protect the consumer," Narigi said. "The confusion has been caused."

Portola Plaza Hotel general manager Bob DeVoe said he didn't know much about the suit and referred all questions to ownership and its legal representatives. The Portola Plaza Hotel, a 380-room facility located next to the Monterey Conference Center in the city's downtown area, was built in 1978 and is owned by Phoenix-based general partners Peter Bidstrup and James Grier.

According to a press release issued by the Monterey Plaza Hotel, the suit alleges that customers and the media have made it a habit to refer to the Cannery Row hotel as simply "The Plaza" or "The Plaza Hotel" since 1986, and the Portola Plaza Hotel's recent name change co-opts the colloquial usage. The suit also alleges that the Portola Plaza Hotel now refers to itself on its Web site as "the finest Monterey plaza hotel and spa facility," the "Monterey Portola Plaza Hotel" and the "Portola Plaza Hotel & Spa," all of which has added to the confusion and violated federal trademark laws as a result.

In addition, the suit claims that the Portola Plaza Hotel has inaccurately marketed itself as a "beachfront hotel," located "on the waterfront," set "on the water's edge" and as a "Cannery Row Hotel" despite its location blocks away from the Monterey Bay.

In a statement, Narigi said: "Since the old Doubletree Hotel changed its name to include 'Plaza Hotel' and started an aggressive Internet campaign using our trademarked name on its Web site, we have had numerous incidents of confusion among our customers. When people make a reservation at 'The Plaza' in Monterey, or when they tell someone to take them to 'The Plaza' or meet them at 'The Plaza,' they shouldn't run the risk that they end up at the wrong hotel -- and that has happened on numerous occasions. That's why trademark laws exist."

According to the Portola Plaza Hotel Web site, the name was chosen to celebrate the area's historic ties to Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola, who is credited with helping found Monterey in 1768. A statue of Portola is located in front of the hotel and the conference center.

Local hotel and tourism industry experts expressed surprise that the two hotels would end up in litigation over such an issue. One industry insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called the suit a "shocker" and said there must be another motivation behind the suit than just the allegations, because the hotels' general managers are thought to be dear friends after serving on the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau for years, and the area's large hotels tend to "stick together."

"It's great when you have the hotel folks getting along," Monterey Conference Center general manager Dan Concepcion said. "But you have two very aggressive general managers and companies. I can't say there's any bad blood there but there you have it."

Monterey County hotels earn an estimated $400 million per year, a large chunk of the $2 billion annual tourism industry.

Monterey Plaza Hotel attorney Jeff Faucette, of the San Francisco-based Howard Rice Law Firm, did not return the Herald's phone calls, nor did Portola Plaza Hotel general partner Grier.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or jjohnson@montereyherald.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Monterey County Herald, Calif.

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