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Former Naples’ Rib City Restaurant Manager’s Defense: Smiling Piggy Logo In New Restaurant Just A “Coincidence”

Posted by Eric Parzianello on February 14, 2010

When Fort Myers-based Rib City Restaurant Group was contacted about its Long Island, New York, restaurant location, the group’s managers were a little surprised. Despite having 28 restaurants in eight states, Rib City doesn’t have a restaurant in New York.

After some investigation, they discovered that a former manager, Frank Ryan, opened a “Rib City Ale House” in New York. Aside from the trademark issues arising from Ryan’s alleged use of the “Rib City” name, its restaurant layout, smiling pig, menus, recipes, food preparation techniques, Internet name, and other material, Ryan had signed an agreement not to compete or use the restaurant’s trade secrets, recipes, or food preparation techniques for 10 years when he was asked to leave Rib City’s Naples location in 2007. The Naples Daily News chronicled the Rib City story in a recent article.

After Ryan’s attorney responded to a cease and desist letter, calling it an “inadvertent mistake, a coincidence” and Ryan failed to change the restaurant name, the Rib City Group filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers. The lawsuit alleges that Ryan’s Rib City Ale House uses the trademarked smiling pig, several of the same menu items, Rib City signs and awnings, and a Rib City Web address. The Rib City Ale House menu remains available on-line. A comparison of the Florida-based Rib City menu shows nearly identical names and descriptions for menu items such as the Skyscraper Sandwich, Three-Cheese Fries, Buffalo Popcorn Shrimp, and From the Field Salads.

The Naples Daily News quotes Ryan as saying: “I never thought anyone could have a copyright on Rib City. Who are they to have the right to Rib City everything?” As for the smiling pig which the Rib City Group trademarked and which Ryan used for the Rib City Ale House, Ryan said it was just generic artwork he found on the Internet. “The smiling piggy is gone,” he said. “I feel horrible.” Whether he feels horrible about allegedly taking the Rib City Group’s trademarks, about perhaps violating his non-compete agreement or simply about getting caught, might be answered by his last comment: “I put a lot of money into this place.”

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