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Published: Friday, 6/3/2005

Mud Hens squawk over name rights

Trouble is brewing between Toledo's minor league baseball team and a Michigan firm that franchises drive-through coffee kiosks, all due to an ugly bird.

The Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club Inc. this week filed a trademark infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Toledo, saying the name and logo of Mudhen Espresso Inc., of Gaylord, Mich., are too similar to its own and will cause confusion among consumers.

The two-year-old Michigan firm, on the other hand, says the baseball club's claim is baseless and the name "Mudhen Espresso" came from a caricatured bird living in a coffee cup. The mud hen, it said, is described in dictionaries as a bird living in a marshy region.

"It's certainly overwhelming to hear accusations that threaten your livelihood," said Kerby Sides, founder and president of the Michigan firm.

"Its coffee and baseball. The Toledo Muds Hens do not own the name to the bird, just like the St. Louis Cardinals don't own the cardinal and the Detroit Tigers don't own the tiger. Consumers are smarter than that."

The Gaylord company has several stand-alone kiosks in northern Michigan.

The lawsuit alleges that the Toledo team and the Michigan company's "marks are essentially identical and when used in connection with coffee or coffee products is likely to cause confusion as to the source or sponsorship of the respective goods."

The Mud Hens name, first used in 1896 in connection with Toledo's minor league team, has been used continuously since the team re-adopted it in 1965.

The suit asks that Mudhen Espresso be barred from using that name and account for its profits, which the club says are the actual damages it has suffered, and that it be forced to destroy signs, advertisements, and other materials using the name and logo. Finally, the baseball club asks for attorney's fees and other costs.

Attorneys for the Mud Hens could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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