BRUNSWICK, Maine — An Asian restaurant in Brunswick is being sued by a national chain over the use of the word “Tao” in its name.
TAO Licensing LLC, a Delaware-based restaurant chain with headquarters in New York City, claimed in a U.S. District Court complaint filed Tuesday that Tao Restaurant LLC, which opened a restaurant in May at 22 Pleasant St. in Brunswick, is illegally using the “Tao” name.
The national chain, which bills itself as a high-end restaurant franchise, demands unspecified financial compensation from the Brunswick restaurant for damages and legal fees, in addition to a court order requiring the restaurant to stop using the word Tao on its restaurant and website.
Cecile Stadler, one of the owners of the Tao restaurant in Brunswick, said Wednesday afternoon that she had not yet vetted the complaint, but that the word Tao is ubiquitous in Asian culture and used by numerous restaurants in the United States, according to research she did when she opened hers.
Tao or Dao has dozens of meanings in the Chinese language and Taoist thought, including “route” or “pathway.” Stadler said the Chinese character her restaurant is named for is different from TAO Licensing’s use of the word. Stadler said the one she uses means “peach” and comes from a Chinese fable about a utopia found in a peach tree grove.
“Our name is a different meaning, a different origin and a different word in Chinese,” said Sadler. “We’re a little surprised all of this has happened. Nobody is going to be confused with our restaurant and theirs in New York and Las Vegas.”
The Brunswick restaurant is owned by Cecile and John Stadler of Phippsburg and Cara Stadler of the Portland area, according to the complaint.
TAO Licensing began operations in 2000 after receiving trademark licenses for the use of the all-uppercase word “TAO,” and its New York and Las Vegas restaurants are now frequented by “millions of people each year.”
“The TAO venues are frequently visited by celebrities, and consequently are regularly mentioned in various publications and media outlets around the country,” reads the complaint. TAO Licensing also contests the Brunswick restaurant’s website, www.tao-Maine.com.
“Defendants’ use of the names ‘TAO’ and ‘TAO Maine’ for their Asian restaurant is an effort to free-ride on the enormous goodwill established by plaintiff’s well-known and famous TAO venues,” reads the complaint.
TAO Licensing claims that the Brunswick restaurant’s name violates state and federal trademark laws, as well as false designation of origin and unfair competition laws. It also alleges a violation of the Federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.
The plaintiffs demand the destruction of all materials associated with the Brunswick restaurant that have the word Tao on them, and ownership of the www.tao-Maine.com domain name. The suit also calls for exemplary and punitive damages against Tao restaurant, including profits made by the Brunswick restaurant and losses experienced by TAO Licensing, as well as legal fees.
Howard J. Shire of the New York City law firm Kenyon & Kenyon said Wednesday that he was unable to comment on the suit due to his clients’ wishes. Shire said TAO Licensing has pursued or is pursuing similar actions against other restaurants that use “Tao” in their names. Mark E. Porada of the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood LLP also represents the clients, but declined to comment on Wednesday.
Stadler said she is considering hiring legal representation in the case.
“This is my first restaurant ever, which I opened with my daughter,” said Stadler. “This has never happened to me so I don’t know exactly what we’re going to to do.”