O'Charley's Inc. Vs. Darden Restaurants Inc. - Trademark Issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Is there any difference between a rocky river and a stoney one?

Restaurant chain O'Charley's Inc. thinks there isn't and has filed a federal lawsuit against competitor Darden Restaurants Inc., claiming that Darden's new Rocky River Grillhouse infringes on its trademark for Stoney River Legendary Steaks.

Darden spokesman Jim DeSimone said the company has opened only one Rocky River restaurant, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The lawsuit accuses Darden of trying to revamp its underperforming Smokey Bones restaurants by replacing some of them with the Rocky River Grillhouse concept, which is "extremely similar" to Stoney River restaurants.

DeSimone said Darden is testing the concept and doesn't know if it will convert the Smokey Bones chain to the Rocky River brand.

Darden's shifted away from serving barbecue and instead will serve grilled steaks and other items similar to the menu at Stoney River, the lawsuit says.

"Because of the identical meanings and connotations of Stoney River and Rocky River, consumers, prospective customers and patrons are likely to confuse the two names and be unable to identify which name goes with which restaurant," the lawsuit states.

Orlando-Fla.-based Darden owns and operates more than 1,440 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones, and Seasons 52 restaurants with annual sales of $5.7 billion, according to the company's Web site.

DeSimone said the company had not been approached by O'Charley's about the issue before the lawsuit was filed in Nashville, where O'Charley's is headquartered.

O'Charley's operates or franchises 361 restaurants under three brands: O'Charley's, Ninety Nine Restaurant, and Stoney River Legendary Steaks. There are 10 Stoney River restaurants in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee.

The lawsuit also claims Stoney River has an "atmosphere evocative of an upscale mountain lodge," and Rocky River, which specializes in steaks, also has a "lodgelike" setting.

DeSimone notes that Darden's Smokey Bones restaurants also have a rustic lodge look.

Darden executives acknowledged last year that the company needed to improve its Smokey Bones brand.

Smokey Bones' same-store sales - an important industry gauge of restaurants open more than a year - were down and the company said it plans to limit its restaurant openings to five in fiscal 2007, while revamping the brand.