Sunday, February 15, 2009

PRS - Legal Issues

In 1998 PRS released their "Singlecut" guitar, which bore some resemblance to the venerable Les Paul, Gibson Guitar Corp filed a trademark infringement against Paul Reed Smith. An injunction was ordered[1] and PRS stopped manufacture of the Singlecut at the end of 2001. Federal District Court Judge William J. Haynes, in a 57-page decision ruled "that PRS [Paul Reed Smith] was imitating the Les Paul" and gave the parties ninety days "to complete any discovery on damages or disgorgement of PRS's profits on the sales of its offending Singlecut guitar."

In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower court decision and ordered the dismissal of Gibson's suit against PRS. The decision also immediately vacated the injunction prohibiting the sale and production of PRS’s Singlecut Guitar. Paul Reed Smith Guitars announced that it would immediately resume production of its Singlecut guitars.

Paul Smith, the founder of PRS, stated "We are delighted that the appellate court affirmed what we and the industry have long known: the PRS Singlecuts are musical instruments of the highest quality that would never be confused with a competitor’s product."

Gibson tried and failed to have the case reheard by all twenty-four Sixth Circuit judges (denied in December 2005) and then by the United States Supreme Court (denied June 2006), which was their last chance to have their original injunction upheld.

In the litigation, Gibson alleged that concert goers in a smoky concert hall might not be able to differentiate a PRS Singlecut from a Gibson Les Paul. The appellate court rejected that trademark theory out-of-hand, emphasizing Gibson’s concession in court arguments that “only an idiot” would confuse the two products at the point of sale.

While no changes to the design of the Singlecut occurred as a result of the lawsuit (given that Gibson lost), some Singlecut owners and sellers have erroneously adopted the term 'pre-lawsuit' to differentiate their Singlecut from others.

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