DAKOTA’S ROUNDS UP THE NAME RUSTLERS

SPATS Dakota’s, the famed upscale downtown underground restaurant, is known for its classic American fare: steak, seafood, and litigation. It’s also one of the only U.S. restaurants named after the Peach Garden and Coyote states-North and South Dakota, for those whose geography skills have rusted. To hold on to that distinction, Dakota’s keeps a posse of lawyers scanning the badlands for name rustlers.

Since opening in December of 1984, the company. an affiliate of Lincoln Property Company, has been aggressive in protecting its right to the Dakota’s moniker for a very good reason. Dakota’s lawyer, ROCKY SCHWARTZ, points out that a business can lose its service mark rights if a rival can prove the company didn’t go to the mattresses against an offender.

When the Dakotas (there’s another official one in Boston) find some greasy spoon or high-dollar palace tarnishing the hallowed title, a cease and desist letter is sent asking the infringer to kindly pay homage to another of the remaining 48 states, or Puerto Rico, or Iceland, or anything else but Dakota. Most comply; those that don’t are sued. So far, all pseudo-Dakotas brought to trial have lost, though Schwartz says that a half-dozen or so eateries in non-competitive locales have been allowed, as part of the settlement, to use the name for a few years.

“It’s a constant thing,” say GREG WILLIAMS, Dakota’s chief financial officer. “We spend a lot of money (on these suits]. And accordingly, you develop an asset. It’s something, just like the name McDonald’s and Burger King, that’s an asset you can take to any country, and you immediately know what it is.’”

Case in point: the would-be Dakota in Washington, D.C., played tough when ordered to change, then lost in court. After taking a new name, Opera, the eatery has experienced a drop-off in preferred clientele.

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