|By Patti Rosenberg, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 25, 2004 - You don't have to be in Virginia to enjoy the Williamsburg Inn.
Maryland has one, too.
The Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg boasts "distinctive food and wines in an atmosphere of graceful elegance" in its dining room, the Regency Room.
A phone book ad promises "Elegant Dining In Fine Colonial Style" at the Williamsburg Inn in White Marsh, a suburb of Baltimore. The name of the establishment is written in a fancy, old-fashioned script similar to Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's logo. Even its decor is colonial, according to its Web site.
David Geer, one of the owners, said his uncle bought the place in the early 1960s, and it had already been in business with that name for about a decade before then. He didn't know why the previous owner chose it, he said.
Geer said he doesn't want to say anything to antagonize CW.
"It doesn't behoove us to discuss this in the newspaper," he said. "I have no problems with Colonial Williamsburg. I frequently go to Colonial Williamsburg and enjoy myself."
CW officials are researching what to do about the conflict.
CW has dozens of trademarked names for products and properties, including "Williamsburg Inn," said Tim Andrews, the foundation's director of public relations. He said it gets wind of possible trademark violations dozens of times a year.
He declined to give any examples. But earlier this month, a spokesman for the new Hooters on Bypass Road said CW had asked the restaurant to stop selling T-shirts and polo shirts with "Colonial Williamsburg" on them.
Greg Knox said he didn't know "Colonial Williamsburg" was trademarked and sees it on souvenirs all over town. Knox suspected that CW was particularly sensitive about any association with Hooters. In the future, Hooters' shirts will just say "Williamsburg," he said.
The foundation is vigilant about protecting its trademark, no matter who misuses it, said Sophie Hart, public relations manager for CW. She said the issue with Hooters was resolved, and no legal action will be taken.
CW likes to handle these situations discreetly, Andrews said. He said a polite letter is usually sufficient to correct infractions.
But the case of the other Williamsburg Inn would involve a significant sacrifice.
"We're well known in the area," Geer said. "We're an old, well-established business with 40 to 50 years of a reputation."
Geer wondered whether the name had been trademarked before his business opened.
Hart said it was trademarked in the late 1930s, when the local Williamsburg Inn opened.
An organization can lose its trademark if it doesn't enforce it, Hart said. It also risks customer confusion, she said.
Two trademark lawyers not involved in the case confirmed Hart's statements. One of the lawyers said trademark laws are designed primarily to protect customers, so they won't be misled about what to expect. For example, someone who had previously stayed at the Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg might be disappointed if he made a reservation at the White Marsh Williamsburg Inn expecting a similar experience.
Geer said his establishment has made a name for itself as a place for people from eastern Baltimore County to celebrate special occasions.
But it is not as grand as the Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, which was built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and is considered one of the finest hotels in the country. Guests from all over the world have visited, including Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Margaret Thatcher and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
It was unclear this week whether CW officials knew about Maryland's Williamsburg Inn before now. "Because of the popularity of Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg," Andrews said, "it's not uncommon for us to run into trademark infringement issues."
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