Gibson 'Declares War'

Gibson Brands has issued at least 13 cease and desist letters to guitar manufacturers claiming trademark infringement on specific models including the Flying V, Explorer, ES and SG body shape designs, according to intellectual property attorney Ron Bienstock of Scarinci Hollenbeck, who represents the recipients. Letters have also been sent to Gibson dealers stating that the company is protecting its trademarks.

To date, the only company to be served with a trademark lawsuit is Florida-based Armadillo Distribution Enterprises, parent company of Dean Guitars and Luna Guitars. The multimillion-dollar case, filed June 6 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, claims trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting, unfair competition, trademark dilution and other related causes of action under federal, state and common law arising from defendant Armadillo's unauthorized use of Gibson's Flying V body shape design, Explorer body shape design, Dove Wing headstock design, Hummingbird trademark and Moderne trademark. Gibson has requested a jury trial to resolve the case.

Bienstock said he expects more lawsuits will be filed and is convinced that Gibson has "declared war" against the rest of the guitar industry.

"The goodwill they may have had is over. They're going to open up a multiple-front war," he said, referring to the now-deleted YouTube video released by Gibson last month.

The nearly 4-minute video, which was viewed more than 150,000 times before being taken down, featured Mark Agnesi, Gibson's director of brand experience.

In the video titled "Play Authentic," Agnesi threatened rival competitors: "To manufacturers out there: We want you to know that you've been warned. We're looking out, and we're here to protect our iconic legacy and the designs we've created over generations … This isn't about us trying to be bullies or trying to stifle the boutique marketplace. This is about protecting our legacy, 125 years of innovation and relevance in music. It's worth protecting and it's our job, and we will continue to fight and protect our intellectual property."

Gibson Loses Flying V Trademark in EU Court

While Gibson is taking legal action to protect its Flying V trademark in the United States, the company has lost the rights to trademark the shape in Europe. The Second Chamber of the EU General Court ruled June 28 that Gibson's Flying V body shape was not distinctive enough.

In the nine-page document, the panel of General Court judges wrote: "Although the applicant (Gibson) may rightly rely on the fact that the shape of the Flying V guitar was very original when it was released on the market in 1958, it cannot however deny the evolution of the market during the following 50 years, which was henceforward characterised by a wide variety of available shapes."

Music Inc. has contacted Gibson for comment.