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Legendary Sea Island Resort in Georgia Forces Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Sea Island Inn to Change Name in Trademark Dispute

By Dawn Bryant, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 4, 2007 -What's in a name? For the Sea Island Inn on the Beach, about $30,000 to $50,000.

That's how much the resort will spend on signs and brochures to become the Island Vista -- a forced name change brought on by another "Sea Island" 281 miles away in Glynn County, Ga.

Turns out there's not enough room on the Southeast coast for two resorts with the "Sea Island" name.

The Sea Island Company in Georgia, which has used the moniker since 1926, sued the resort of the same name in Myrtle Beach claiming it has had the sole right to "Sea Island" since trademarking it in 1985.

Instead of going through a lengthy and expensive legal battle, the Sea Island in Myrtle Beach settled the suit and is becoming the Island Vista, dropping a name it has used since 1968.

"We regret having to change the name, but it's the best business decision we could make," said Steve Chapman, the Sea Island's managing partner. "Just do it and move on."

Not even a year into its new oceanfront building in Myrtle Beach that replaced the more modest hotel, the Sea Island has had to buy a new sign, business cards, brochures and souvenirs. The final total isn't in, but Chapman estimates the changeover will cost a sizeable amount -- but less than a legal fight.

The Sea Island in Georgia is protecting the name that has survived 80 years through four generations of the A.W. Jones family, which has owned and operated the resort since the 1920s, said Merry Tipton, the resort's vice president of corporate communications.

"Our registered trademarks have been in place for many years, and we work vigorously to protect them," she said in a written statement.

The Sea Island in Georgia has known about the duplicate name since 1987, but didn't take its objection to court until Myrtle Beach's Sea Island built the new building, which opened in May, according to the lawsuit.

Combined with the Myrtle Beach hotel's stepped-up advertising, the new property posed more of a threat to the Sea Island in Georgia and would "tarnish and dilute the distinctiveness of Sea Island Company's well-known Sea Island marks," the property said in its complaint.

"Unlike the old fashioned motel oriented toward an old Myrtle Beach clientele of budget-conscious family vacationers from the Carolinas, the new hotel is being promoted as an elegant, up-market luxury facility," the complaint says.

The $40 million renovation has raised the Sea Island's reputation from a modest mom-and-pop to a lavish resort.

Still, the Myrtle Beach property is a long way from reaching the upscale feel of the Sea Island in Georgia.

The sprawling, AAA-rated five-diamond complex, which consumes five miles along the oceanfront, played host to President Bush and the G8 Summit of world leaders in 2004 and still offers coat-and-tie required dinners.

"They are fishing out of a different pond," Chapman said.

Most trademark cases are like this one and never make it to court, said Andy Gowder, an attorney with Pratt-Thomas, Epting & Walker in Charleston who specializes in trademark litigation.

They are expensive, so one side typically agrees to change the name or the colors or add words to distinguish it from the other, he said.

"Sometimes it just comes down to a business decision," Gowder said.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or dbryant@thesunnews.com [mailto:dbryant@thesunnews.com].

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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