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Napa’s Caymus Vineyards sues Sonoma’s Caymus companies for trademark infringement

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The name “Caymus” has become familiar to Sonomans under a different context than the name holds in neighboring Napa Valley.

And that, says Caymus Vineyards in Napa, is grounds for a lawsuit.

According to a filing in San Francisco’s U.S. District Court, dated March 2, Sonoma’s Caymus Capital is being sued, along with other related parties, by Caymus Vineyards of Napa.

The suit cites the defendants’ “unauthorized and unlawful use of Plaintiff’s famous, incontestable federal trademark registration for the mark ‘Caymus’ and Plaintiff’s corporate and trade name ‘Caymus Vineyards.’”

The suit is filed against a broad array of defendants, including Caymus Capital, Caymus Builders, Caymus Residential Recovery fund and other variants, and individuals including Edmond Routhier, George Sutcliffe and Rob Auger. It also names “Does 1-50 (collectively “Defendants”),” a standard legal clause for as yet unnamed defendants – which could include other related business entities, or their investors.

Caymus Vineyards of Napa, a winery and grape growing company, was founded by winemaker Chuck Wagner in 1972 and he and his family are still owners. They allege the use of the name “Caymus” is trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition, “likely to cause confusion, deception, and mistake by creating the false and misleading impression that Defendants’ goods or services are associated, affiliated, or connected with Plaintiff, or have the sponsorship, endorsement, or approval of Plaintiff,” according to the complaint.

The suit was filed in federal court because the trademark name Caymus registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1994.

The suit explains that Caymus Vineyards has engaged in building projects on its own properties, primarily in the Napa Valley, and is currently developing a winery, bottling and distribution complex in Solano, where it does business as Caymus-Suisun.

In addition to a lengthy list of its winery accolades and celebrity, Caymus Vineyards also notes that the brand (or “Caymus Mark”) “has appeared on several television programs, including without limitation, ‘Will & Grace.’ ‘Friends,’ ‘Californication,’ ‘Entourage,’ ‘The Ellen Show,’” as well as the movies “Bewitched” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

The winery’s complaint holds that multiple attempts have been made to reach a solution with Caymus Builders, including legal correspondence which, according to the complaint, has gone unacknowledged. But the incident that apparently sparked the suit was precipitated by the October fires, which burned considerable acreage in Napa as well as Sonoma counties.

Reads the complaint: “Since that time, Defendant Caymus Builders LLC has advertised its services along the Napa-Sonoma corridor, presumably as part of the re-building process. … The highly visible signage advertising Defendant’s goods and services alongside vineyard properties will likely cause confusion, mistake, or deception as to the source, affiliation, sponsorship or authenticity of Defendant’s goods and services.”

The lawsuit also mentions by name Routhier and Caymus Capital’s “involvement in a controversial development project including a restaurant in Sonoma County,” presumably referring to the since-abandoned FSE (First Street East) project.

In all a total of six counts are alleged, including both federal and common law trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, federal and state trademark dilution, and violation of California business and professions code.

The suit asks for the defendants to cease all uses of the name Caymus, punitive damages and legal fees. It also requests that the case be heard by jury trial, and not decided solely by a judge.

Caymus Vineyards has previously taken similar legal action to protect its trademark. In 2014 it won a trademark suit against an Arizona-based Caymus Corp., a general contractor located in Tempe. Calls to that business indicate they have changed their name to Legis Corp.

The winery’s name descends from Rancho Caymus, a Mexican land grant in the area of Yountville in the Napa Valley, where Chuck Wagner made his first wines in 1972. It is thought to derive from the name of the local Pomo tribe, kai-mas.

In response to inquiries from the Index-Tribune, Routhier provided the following statement: “Caymus is the name of a historical California Indian tribe. For over 30 years now, multiple companies throughout the United States have honored the unique heritage of the Caymus tribe by naming their businesses in its honor. Companies such as ours that have nothing to do with the alcohol industry and do not compete with Caymus Vineyards. We believe we as well have a right to honor California’s Indian heritage in industries far removed from the alcohol industry, and believe the trademark laws support our position.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.