Heritage Guitars has announced it has taken legal action against Gibson, in response to threats issued by the guitar giant over alleged trademark infringement.
In a statement shared by Heritage co-owners BandLab Technologies, Heritage claims it filed the defensive suit “in response to an ongoing and excessive campaign of harassment by the Gibson team since they came under new [part-]ownership”.
Following Gibson’s factory move from Michigan to Nashville in 1984, Heritage Guitars was formed in Kalamazoo, Michigan by a small group of Gibson employees, where the offshoot firm continued to make Gibson-style guitars.
The two companies eventually drew up a confidential agreement in 1991, which prevented Heritage building direct copies, according to Gibson. In contrast, BandLab Technologies-owned Guitar.com claims it has seen redacted versions of the 1991 documents that “effectively giv[e] Heritage Gibson’s blessing to continue making its guitars”.
Gibson’s recent spate of communications appear to stem from Heritage’s plans following its 2016 acquisition in part by BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based conglomerate run by Meng Ru Kuok, the son of billionaire palm-oil trader Kuok Khoon Hong.
These allegedly include converting the iconic Parsons Street, Kalamazoo factory into a hotel, but most notably pertain to “new guitars that clearly did not respect, nor adhere to, the original contract,” Gibson said in a statement.
“Several customers had inquired if they were actually Gibson Guitars. Heritage Guitars also took the liberty of using language on their website that was misleading and misrepresenting, which added to the confusion.”
Gibson claims these actions were at odds with the original contract, and got in touch with Heritage to seek an amicable arrangement.
Heritage has labelled Gibson’s claims of any contract inconsistency “spurious”, and noted that Gibson threatened to “outspend” Heritage legally if the company failed to comply.
The legal filing, obtained by Guitar.com, also points towards a more aggressive stance from Gibson’s new management Kohlbergh Kravis Roberts, which took over following the company’s 2018 bankruptcy.
“In February 2019, shortly after KKR took over Gibson, Gibson wrote to Heritage and essentially claimed that Heritage had been violating the Settlement Agreement for decades,” the filing reads.
“Gibson demanded that Heritage essentially cease its business as the only solution that Gibson would accept.”
In this instance, however, Heritage claims it is simply looking for the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan Southern Division to confirm it has not violated the two firms’ agreement, rather than dispute the ownership of any trademarks.
As with all its battles so far, however, Gibson shows no sign of backing down.
“To be clear, Gibson has not sued Heritage and has been proactive towards a solution,” the company said in a statement.
“However, Gibson will not accept that Heritage Guitars, [part-]owned by BandLab, in partnership with real estate developers, can re-write Gibson’s history or blatantly breach a good faith contract.”
We will bring you any further developments in this case as they emerge.
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