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An epic pizza trademark story?

In August, a “minor legal epic” moved to a new stage when the 2nd Circuit court ruled on a trademark dispute between two pizza brands, one from Chicago and one from New York. It’s a complex case that investigates some of the lesser examined areas of trademark law.

The start of the problem

As with any epic, the start was somewhat inauspicious, with the two sides coming into conflict for the first time over pizza sauce. The pizzerias both came to market in the Nineties with a brand of Pizza sauce, but their names were fairly similar “Patsy’s Italian Restaurant” and “Patsy’s Pizzeria.”

In response to that similarity, Patsy’s Pizzeria – located in Chicago – sought to cancel trademarks owned by Patsy’s Italian Restaurant – located in New York. Over the course of the decades of litigation, both sides sought to cancel the other’s trademarks. Each would win a victory in court, only to have that taken back in another appeal. The back and forth started in 1998 and stretched all the way to a seeming resolution in 2018, but that was just a false end.

No one was confused, and yet…

In 2018, the Chicago Patsy’s won a complicated legal battle. The judge in that case attempted to bring a final resolution to the case. As neither party argued that confusion between the brands was an issue, the judge ruled for New York Patsy’s in a decision that also awarded the Chicago Patsy’s trademark protections.

According to the 2nd Circuit, this attempt at resolution was not proper and vacated the trademark award.

Minor issues lead to complex legal procedures.

Trademarks law is an area that many believe should be cut and dried. However, as the “sauce case” case demonstrates, simple issues can take on a life of their own in trademark litigation.

It remains to be seen whether Chicago-style and New York-style pizzas can legally coexist as pizza.