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Wisconsin: Discount Liquor sues to protect its name

Source: Journal Sentinel
Gary Porter
May 4, 2011
Milwaukee-area retailers can sell cut-rate alcohol, but if they don’t want to land in court, they’d better not call it discount liquor, no matter how common or ubiquitous that may sound. Stores have been ordered to remove the phrase from their signs and names as part of a trademark enforcement campaign by the granddaddy of the genre, Discount Liquor.
The widely known store at 5031 W. Oklahoma Ave. – the company also has a store at 919 Barstow St. in Waukesha – has been in business since 1968. But last year, it began hearing about some confusion among suppliers, customers and advertisers who thought new stores springing up might be affiliated. Lawyers from Maistelman & Associates sent out some cease-and-desist letters and, when those failed to generate compliance, followed with lawsuits.
Frank Greguska, an officer of Discount Liquor, called litigation a last resort. “However, we could not stand by and allow customers to continue to be confused about whether our business was in any way connected to these other ‘Discount Liquor’ stores,” he said in a prepared statement. “We could not risk any damage to our business’ excellent reputation that may have been done by the operator of an unrelated store with a confusingly similar name.” So far, Vliet Discount Liquors, 3901 W. Vliet St.; Cleveland Discount Liquors, 8423 Cleveland Ave., West Allis; and Ridins Discount Liquor, 1606 N. 35th St., have either agreed or been ordered by a court to immediately drop the word “discount” from their signs and advertising, and to not pursue any trademark registration of the name.
Vince Bobot, an attorney that represented the Cleveland Ave. store, said his client had agreed to resolve the case because “discount” wasn’t a significant or key part of its business plan. The two other stores appeared to not even have lawyers, according to court records. The owners could not be reached Tuesday for comment. But at least one store plans to fight back. A lawyer for Brook-Falls Discount Liquor, 14835 W. Lisbon Road, Brookfield, said his client does not plan to change its name unless and until a jury says it should. “Discount and liquor are just two generic words,” attorney Joseph Kershek said Tuesday. “They’re unremarkable with no special meaning, not protected, and we think anyone can use them.”
Discount Liquor isn’t done yet. It filed a new action Tuesday against Kimbee’s Discount Liquor, 3160 N. 27th St. Like the other complaints, it claims infringement of trade name and unfair competition. Discount’s attorney Michael Maistelman said, “The phrase ‘discount liquor’, after over 50 years of business in Wisconsin, has acquired a secondary meaning beyond the obvious meaning of the two words.” He said the company has gotten many inquiries from the public about other Wisconsin stores with similar names that are in no way related. “Discount Liquor is a protected, valuable mark, and our client looks forward to enforcing its rights,” he said.