Recently it came to our attention that Sony is suing Bridgestone Tires along with Kevin Butler-actor Jerry Lambert’s advertising company Wildcat Creek for “misappropriating Sony’s intellectual property.” At the time, we had little to go on other than Sony’s say on the matter, but more details have been revealed, and Bridgestone has responded.
First let’s quickly establish a few details for context:
- Sony’s contract with Wildcat Creek contained an exclusivity clause that prevented Lambert from working with Sony’s competitors. It expired three days before the Bridgestone Tire Wii promo aired.
- Bridgestone Tires (digitally, or otherwise) removed Jerry Lambert’s character from the original advertisement days after the world caught wind that “Kevin Butler is selling the Wii.”
- Sony believes Jerry Lambert worked on the Bridgestone Wii commercial while still under contract with them.
- Kevin Butler has 129,000 Twitter followers, has appeared in over 30 PlayStation advertisements, and is being offered as a pre-order costume bonus for the upcoming LittleBigPlanet Karting.
Sony stated that Bridgestone is infringing on their trademark violation:
With the intent of unfairly capitalizing on the consumer goodwill generated by ‘Kevin Butler,’ Bridgestone has used and is using the same or confusingly similar character, played by the same actor, to advertise its products or services in the commercial.
Bridgestone, in turn, replied stating Sony doesn’t have any protectable property interest whatsoever in the “Kevin Butler” character while also outright denying Kevin Butler appeared in their commercial:
Mr. Lambert is one of the actors who appeared in the commercial as a Bridgestone engineer. Bridgestone denies that ‘Kevin Butler’ appears in the Bridgestone commercial discussed herein and thus denies that he speaks or does anything whatsoever in the commercial.
Bridgestone is fighting the suit saying that Sony has failed to register a trademark on Kevin Butler, and are attempting to establish that the Kevin Butler character has not acquired secondary meaning, and there is no likelihood of confusion among consumers.
As you can likely see, this isn’t a simple case, and there are valid arguments for both sides. I think Sony’s best bet (aside from proving Lambert worked with Bridgestone while under contract) is in proving potential customer confusion. After all, if the Bridgestone Wii commercial had a PS3 instead of Nintendo’s console, and LittleBigPlanet Karting in lieu of Mario Kart, the majority of viewers would either assume it’s a Kevin Butler advertisement, or think it’s a Kevin Butler cross-over commercial like they did before with Best-Buy.
Do you think Bridgestone was purposefully utilizing Jerry Lambert’s unique Kevin Butler character and notoriety? If so, do you reckon Sony will be able to prove it in court?