Heritage Guitars Sues Gibson for Alleged Trademark Threats

Heritage says that the "defensive lawsuit" was filed "in response to an ongoing and excessive campaign of harassment by the Gibson team since they came under new ownership."
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Heritage Guitars has sued Gibson over threats the guitar giant has allegedly issued for trademark infringement.

In a statement, Heritage said that the "defensive lawsuit" was filed "in response to an ongoing and excessive campaign of harassment by the Gibson team since they came under new ownership."

Heritage's history with Gibson goes back a long way. When Gibson moved its main factory from Kalamazoo, MI to Nashville, TN in 1984, a small group of employees stayed behind, purchased some of the Gibson's factory's original equipment at an auction, and started their own brand, Heritage Guitars.

Gibson and Heritage reached a confidential agreement in 1991, the framework of which has let both companies co-exist in peace for the last 29 years. This contract has also since become the source of the legal dispute between the two companies.

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"Recently, Heritage launched some new guitars that clearly did not respect, nor adhere to, the original contract," Gibson said of the lawsuit in a statement of its own. "In fact, several customers had inquired if they were actually Gibson guitars. Heritage Guitars also took the liberty of using language on its website that was misleading and misrepresenting, which added to the confusion.

"As a result, Gibson contacted Heritage to remind them of the conditions of the original contract, with the intention of constructive resolution and suggestions to cure the breach(s). 

"To be clear, Gibson has not sued Heritage and has been proactive towards a solution. However, Gibson will not accept that Heritage Guitars, owned by BandLab, in partnership with real estate developers, can re-write Gibson’s history or blatantly breach a good faith contract." 

According to Gibson, the 1991 contract prevented Heritage from making what Gibson viewed as "direct copies." Guitar.com (which is also owned by Heritage's parent company, BandLab) on the other hand, says that it has seen redacted versions of the 1991 contract that “effectively giv[e] Heritage Gibson’s blessing to continue making its guitars."

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According to Guitar.com, which obtained Heritage's legal filing, Gibson wrote to Heritage in February 2019 and claimed that the company had been violating the 1991 contract for decades.

“Gibson demanded that Heritage essentially cease its business as the only solution that Gibson would accept,” the report added.

Heritage says that is is merely looking for the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan Southern Division to confirm that it hasn't violated the companies' 1991 agreement, rather than dispute the ownership of any trademarks.

We will have more on this story as it develops.