Burger King takes legal shot at Steak n Shake-WEB ONLY

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The Steak n Shake Co. could be in for a grilling in federal court.

Miami-based Burger King Corp. alleges the Indianapolis restaurant chain is infringing upon its trademarks and has sued the company in Florida.

The lawsuit filed late last month claims Steak n Shake’s name for slider-style hamburgers, Steakburger Shots, is “confusingly similar” to trademarked Burger King names. They include BK Burger Shots, BK Breakfast Shots and BK Chicken Shots.

Burger King said it registered the names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and began promoting them in February 2008, well before its competitor unveiled “identical” products.

“Steak n Shake’s unauthorized use of the infringing mark is likely to cause confusion, mistake and deception among consumers and prospective purchasers … of goods offered by Steak n Shake and to dilute the distinctive value of the BK Shots mark,” the complaint said.

Burger King requests a jury trial and is asking that Steak n Shake deliver for destruction all advertisements and related materials that promote the Steakburger Shots name. It also seeks sufficient damages and all profits related to the alleged infringement.

Burger King, founded in Miami in 1954, trails only McDonald’s as the largest fast-food burger chain in the world. Globally, it has more than 11,200 restaurants.

Steak n Shake was founded in Normal, Ill., in 1934, moved to Indianapolis in the 1970s, and has 415 company-owned restaurants and 75 franchised units.

Citing company policy, a representative of Steak n Shake declined to comment on the case.

This is not the first time the two restaurant chains have tangled over menu trademarks.

In 2004, a judge refused to grant an injunction sought by Steak n Shake that would have prevented Burger King from selling The Angus Steak Burger. The companies ultimately settled the case. Terms were not disclosed.

Steak n Shake contended that it had established rights to “steakburger” through decades of using the term, which caused consumers to associate the word specifically with the company’s burgers.

Burger King, however, called the term “generic,” noting it is used by smaller burger outfits across the country, including 96th Street Steakburgers in Indianapolis. It also highlighted the label of A1 Steak Sauce, which says: “A1 makes hamburgers taste like steakburgers.”

Steak n Shake has struggled for several years but is showing signs of a turnaround. The chain last month said it was on pace to snap a 14-quarter streak of declining same-store sales.

Steak n Shake’s stock was up 56 cents this morning, to $9 a share.

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