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Australian Gold sues to protect product name

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Australian Gold LLC, the tanning-products company led by local businessman Steve Hilbert and his wife Tomisue, is in a trademark dispute with a Boston-based online retailer over the trade name Rue La La.

Australian Gold filed suit against RueLaLa Inc. in federal court in Indianapolis last month after receiving three cease-and-desist letters from RueLaLa, according to court filings. The online retailer conducts short-term “flash” sales of various products, ranging from clothing to cosmetics to cookware to travel packages.

Australian Gold uses the phrase Rue La La as the brand name of one of its indoor tanning preparations. Its suggested retail price is $87 per bottle, and Australian Gold claims to market its Rue La La lotion exclusively for sale in indoor tanning salons.

However, bottles can be found for sale—not by Australian Gold—on Amazon.com.

Australian Gold began selling its Rue La La lotion in November and has applied for a trademark on the brand name.

But, on Dec. 14, an attorney for Rue La La in Boston sent a letter to Australian Gold asking it to stop selling its lotion and to abandon its trademark application—or else face a lawsuit, according to Australian Gold’s lawsuit.

Rue La La attorneys sent similar letters on Feb. 3 and March 22. The day after the third letter, Australian Gold filed its lawsuit. It is seeking a declaration of non-infringement and it claims there is no confusion among potential customers caused by the co-existence of the tanning product and the online retailer.

So far, Rue La La Inc. has not responded in court to Australian Gold’s lawsuit.

Australian Gold is a subsidiary of New Sunshine LLC, which is owned by Indianapolis-based investment firm MH Private Equity LLC. MH Private Equity has financial backing from hardware superstore entrepreneur John Menard and is led by Steve Hilbert, the co-founder and former CEO of the insurance giant CNO Financial Group Inc.

MH Equity acquired New Sunshine in 2005 and two years later bought two competitors to become the leading supplier of tanning lotions to the more than 12,000 indoor tanning salons across the country. Its brands include Australian Gold, Designer Skin, Swedish Beauty and California Tan.

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