October 4, 2012

Vegas nightclub company sues Maine restaurant over name

The Maine restaurant is feeding off the success of two lavish businesses that share the name ‘tao,’ the suit says.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Celebrities like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Beyonce are among the thousands of patrons of TAO New York and TAO Las Vegas.

click image to enlarge

The exterior of Tao Restaurant at 22 Pleasant St. in Brunswick on Wednesday, October 3, 2012.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Cecile Stadler and daughter Cara operate Tao Restaurant at 22 Pleasant St. in Brunswick with Cecile’s husband, John. The restaurant seats about 52 and bears little resemblance to the lavish TAO New York and TAO Las Vegas. “There would never be any confusion,” Cecile Stadler said.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

The sister restaurants and nightclubs, with an Asian theme, including giant Buddha sculptures, are spacious, trendy showplaces for movie premieres and CD-launch parties.

This week their owner sued a new family-run restaurant on Pleasant Street in Brunswick, claiming that its name could confuse the public.

TAO Licensing LLC, the Delaware-based company that runs the venues in New York and Las Vegas, wants the Tao Restaurant to stop using its mark -- "TAO" followed by the geographic location -- and to pay damages for using it.

Among other things, the federal lawsuit claims trademark dilution and infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting.

TAO Licensing registered "TAO" as a trademark for restaurants in 2001 and for entertainment venues in 2010. The company argues that it has spent much time and money promoting its ventures, and that the public associates its mark with the services it provides.

The Brunswick restaurant's use of "Tao" -- and "tao-maine" in its website's address -- is "an effort to free-ride on the enormous goodwill established by Plaintiff's well-known and famous" ventures, says the complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland.

TAO Licensing says in the complaint that it sent a letter to the Brunswick restaurant, telling its owners to stop infringing on the TAO trademark.

Cecile Stadler, who opened the business about four months ago with her daughter, Cara, and husband, John, said the "tao" in Tao Restaurant means "peach" and is based on a Chinese fable about a fisherman who unexpectedly finds a secluded utopia in a peach grove.

The "tao" that draws celebrities in New York and Las Vegas, she said, is a different Chinese character, associated with Taoism.

The differences don't end there, Stadler said.

The restaurant in Brunswick seats 40 people, she said. It has a bar that seats six and a lounge area that could fit perhaps another six. There is no nightclub.

"There would never be any confusion," Stadler said.

TAO New York, which opened in 2000, is designed to resemble a temple. The 12,000-square-foot space accommodates 300 diners on three levels and features a 16-foot-tall Buddha over a "virtual reflecting pool," according to its website.

Articles on the website note celebrities' visits.

"It's fly," said Sean Combs -- the rapper also known as Puff Daddy, Diddy and P. Diddy -- in a 2001 article in InStyle.

According to the article, nearly 1,000 people attended a bash that Combs hosted, which included an apparently endless supply of Cristal champagne and "scantily clad" dancers atop tables.

TAO Las Vegas opened in 2005 in The Venetian resort. It has more than 60,000 square feet, including a "beach" area with private cabanas, a Jacuzzi and a wading pool. It can hold 3,000 people.

TAO Licensing has taken legal action against at least one other restaurant. Last month, it sued a restaurant in New York that allegedly changed its name from Empire Szechuan to TAO around July. The restaurant also uses the word "tao" followed by its location in its domain name, taosyosset.com.

Mark Porada, the Portland attorney for TAO Licensing, said his client doesn't have any comment beyond what is in the lawsuit.

The Stadlers didn't have a lawyer representing them in the case as of Wednesday.

"We have some friends of my children who are law students," said Cecile Stadler.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

Twitter: AnnKimPPH

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