Geography was the deciding factor in a trademark infringement suit pitting two senior living operators against one other over the naming of a new community.
Earlier this month, a district court judge found in favor of Retirement Unlimited Inc., which was sued by Westmont Living over the naming of a Richmond, VA, community that Westmont argued would create consumer confusion.
Westmont, which manages 19 senior living communities in California and Oregon, filed a trademark infringement suit in December against RUI, which manages senior living communities in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Westmont took issue with the name of a new RUI community, The Westmont at Short Pump. The name combined the Westmont–Pine View neighborhood in Richmond with the Short Pump, VA, location of the community.
RUI countered that the geographic separation between their business operations meant that the name would not confuse consumers. In a Nov. 3 opinion, US District Court Judge Roderick C. Young agreed with RUI that there likely was no confusion, due to the organizations operating in “separate and distinct markets.”
“Assisted living facilities, retirement homes and temporary day for the elderly … are local businesses because their operation is necessarily tied to their physical presence in a given area,” the opinion read. “While both companies advertise [widely], their business models are inherently local, providing services that require … in-person contact, within specific, distinct geographic areas.”
Both parties said they intended to stay in their geographic locations and did not intend to physically expand their businesses into each other’s regions. But Westmont argued that it had market penetration in the Virgina area, citing its internet presence, 20 Westmont residents who moved from Virginia to its California communities, 15,000 website visits and more than 2,500 paid ad clicks from RUI’s areas of operation, and job applications from the Southeast.
The opinion noted that Westmont’s “broad advertising does not render national its otherwise local business,” noting that broad internet advertising “does not transform an inherently local business into a national one.” The judge added that Westmont does not have a license to operate in Virginia and doesn’t do business in the state, nor did it show the likelihood of the company entering the Virginia market.
The court held that Westmont did not prove trademark infringement because the facts established that the two entities “operate in entirely distinct geographic markets and therefore there is no likelihood of consumer confusion.”
Westmont Living and RUI had not responded to requests for comment from McKnight’s Senior Living by the production deadline.