PORTLAND — Jan Gorman Routh had stayed at The Brunswick Inn at least 20 times since her son started at Bowdoin College in 2008 and knew that’s where she wanted to stay. But she got confused when she called 411 for the number and the operator connected her with the similar-sounding Inn at Brunswick Station instead.
The similarity in the names after The Inn at Brunswick Station opened in June 2011 has led some out-of-town visitors to make reservations at the wrong establishment or arrive at the wrong place, luggage in tow. Vendors have made deliveries to the wrong inn. On one occasion, the naming even confounded the Brunswick Fire Department, which responded to a fire alarm at the wrong hotel.
“On several occasions, I have talked to parents of Bowdoin students that tell me they are staying at The Brunswick Inn, but they are not. On some occasions, they are actually staying at The Inn at Brunswick Station,” Routh, who lives in Alexandria, Va., said in a sworn court statement. “I have been confused myself.”
The Brunswick Inn’s owner believes the confusion is so serious that it has sued The Inn at Brunswick Station to try to force the newer establishment to change its name. The case goes to trial next month in U.S. District Court in Portland. Routh is expected to be one of 21 witnesses testifying for The Brunswick Inn.
“My side will not change its name,” said Boston attorney Frank Gaeta, who represents The Inn at Brunswick Station. “I think the dispute boils down to the right of a business to use a name that says what it is and where it is.”
Portland attorney James Goggin, who represents The Brunswick Inn and its owner Eileen Horner, said the name dispute is one of the rare instances in federal court in Maine when an intellectual property case actually goes to trial. Such cases typically end in settlements or with a judge ruling in favor of one side or the other without having to ask a jury to resolve it.
“The judge found there were enough questions of fact or whether there was trademark infringement or not,” said Goggin, who specializes in intellectual property cases for the law firm Verrill Dana. “We’re going to trial.”
Both inns are located within walking distance from Brunswick’s prestigious Bowdoin College, a draw for many of the guests who stay at each inn. But the two have vastly different styles that appeal to different customers.
The Brunswick Inn operates in a historic 1848 Federal-style house on the town’s stately Park Row. It has been in operation as an inn since 1984 and under its current name since 2007. It has 16 rooms in three buildings, which Horner has overseen with a staff of 12 since she bought the business in 2009. Guests can sit next to a fireplace in overstuffed chairs in the living rooms or on the porch overlooking the local farmer’s market in the park. Horner referred questions about the lawsuit to Goggin.
The Inn at Brunswick Station, located just up the hill at the intersection of Noble and Maine streets, is newly constructed with 48 guest rooms and four spacious suites. It has a full-service restaurant and tavern as well as an event space that can accommodate up to 150 guests, according to its website. Management at The Inn at Brunswick Station declined a request for a photographer to take pictures inside.
“This is a small, family-owned inn that is fighting a big, well-funded Massachusetts developer,” said Goggin, who filed the suit on behalf of The Brunswick Inn in federal court because it involves a federal trademark statute. “There has been all sorts of confusion. People will show up at The Brunswick Inn and say they have a reservation, and Eileen will say, ‘Sorry, no you don’t.’ ”
Before the Inn at Brunswick Station was built, its principal developer, J. Hilary Rockett Jr., stayed many times at The Brunswick Inn, Goggin said.
Before it opened, Rockett originally planned to name his business The Inn at Maine Street Station or The Maine Street Station Inn, Goggin said.
“Then he decided to name it the Inn at Brunswick Station for some reason, even though one of his employees told him there would be confusion,” Goggin said. “We’ve asked them to change the name, and they just said they won’t change the name unless the court tells them to.”
Gaeta said there was confusion after The Inn at Brunswick Station first opened, but that is no longer a problem. He called the incident in which the fire department responded to the wrong location in July 2011 a “red herring,” since his client’s business had just opened at the time.
“We found that some people made mistakes shortly after we opened,” Gaeta said. “It was simply a result of our inn being a new establishment and the fire department being unfamiliar with it. That’s no longer the case.”
Jury selection is scheduled to begin within two weeks, and the trial is expected to take three days.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: